From: Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat
Published August 30, 2005 12:00 AM

Researchers Seek To End Dump Stink

Jeff Chanton and Tarek Abichou have found a surprisingly good use for broken beer bottles, foam packing peanuts and other unwanted stuff that typically takes up space in landfills.

Chanton, a Florida State University oceanography professor, and Abichou, a Florida A&M University/FSU College of Engineering assistant professor, are using the recycled materials to help take the stink out of the Leon County landfill.

Right now, they're testing biofilters - plastic barrels filled with compost and recycled materials that are connected to landfill vents emitting gasses from underground. The stuff inside the barrels provides an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria, which scrub methane gas, smelly sulfur compounds and hazardous materials such as benzene from the emissions.

"We can (take) waste materials," Chanton said, "and put them to good use."

Later this year, they'll be testing an even bigger version of the biofilters at the landfill, with help from a $200,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They're working with Kamal Tawfiq, a professor at the College of Engineering, as well as high-school, undergraduate and graduate students. The work also is being done in conjunction with the county.

The biofilters aren't the researchers' first foray into cutting-edge research at the landfill. Last year, they installed biocovers at two locations that work in much the same way as the biofilters. Methane emissions at one of the biocovers fell to 10 percent, and they were reduced to virtually nothing in one spot at the other.

"I think we've shown that these things can work very well," Abichou said.

Potential impact

In yet another part of the landfill, they're using fast-growing trees to suck up rain, which in turn reduces leachate, or liquid that has passed through waste.

The effect of their research goes beyond cosmetic improvements. Some scientists think that reducing landfill gas emissions can help stave off global warming. Methane and carbon dioxide are thought to contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing and re-emitting infrared radiation in all directions, causing the surface of the planet to warm.

Also, reducing the emissions could help efforts to transform landfills into park lands and forested areas.

Jose Morales, who's pursuing a master's degree in civil engineering, spent a recent morning connecting the biofilters to the landfill vents. One filter consisted of compost and tire chips, the other of compost and plastic foam peanuts. Morales said he enjoys researching how best to filter out harmful emissions.

"You come up with some ideas," he said. "You talk about it and go from there."

Norm Thomas, the county's director of solid waste, said that if the scientists' efforts prove successful, they could benefit not only the local landfill but also others across the country.

"It will reduce the greenhouse gasses that our facility emits," he said. "And it will in the same process reduce the odors that emanate from our facility. And that's extremely important to us."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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