Landfill burns off methane gas

Friday, August 21, 2009
A Waste Management truck, above, approaches Cedar Ridge Landfill's methane gas burner that has a light blue flame that's almost invisible.

A big, almost invisible, blue flame has been burning for years at Cedar Ridge Landfill where it's seen more at night as Waste Management continues to dispose of methane, a byproduct of decomposing trash.

Harnessing the energy, however, "is something that's caught on in a lot of places," according to Ken Haldin, spokesman for Waste Management, the company that owns the landfill west of Lewisburg.

Using the flammable gas for something other than a landfill nightlight is possible, but it's not attracted a lot of attention here.

"We've seen these things coast to coast," Haldin said of two ways the energy in methane is used instead of burned off.

In Heggins, Pa. the Republican Herald of Pottsville, Pa., reports that a "gas-to-energy plant could reach its peak and power 7,000 homes within a year," according to employees at a township landfill.

A number of internal combustion engines run on methane and turn electric power generators.

In East Tennessee, "Chestnut Ridge, is like a mini-TVA power plant with four big CAT generators and a power station," Glenn Youngblood, director of landfill development for Waste Management, said. "The technology has gotten to the point that they change the oil on the run.

"There's a site in Johnson City," Youngblood continued about a Waste Management operation. "There are companies that buy the gas and they pump it to businesses... for heating of a building... In Memphis at the south Shelby Site there is an industry at the site and they pump the gas to the industry."

And that's the other use: A combustible gas that can be used in heaters for buildings and manufacturing products, according to Youngblood and Haldin.

"We have a location in North Georgia that provides energy to a neighboring poultry operation," the company spokesman said. "They're taking as much gas as they can get."

"Our Palmetto Landfill in South Carolina provides gas energy to the BMW plant in Spartenburg," Haldin said. "They have a nine-mile line" to get the gas to the plant.

But, Youngblood said, there are limits.

"Before it starts to make sense it has to be at 1,200 cubic feet per minute flow of methane to burn...

"Cedar Ridge is at 600- to 900 cfm," Youngblood said.

That's worthwhile "if we are relatively close to an industry that's needing low Btu (British thermal unit) gas for brick kilns, building heating, or an asphalt plant," Youngblood said.

Asked about a candle factory, since one is under construction now at Lewisburg's Business Park that's nearly a mile from the landfill, Younglood replied, "They would potentially be a real candidate for a partnership."

The idea was presented to Monte Mertens, director of operations for Autom, the church supply company that's established a call center, warehouse and shipping and receiving operations in the Business Park. Autom is also the company that purchased Will & Baumer, a Syracuse, N.Y., candle maker that's being moved here.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Mertens replied about burning methane.

"Wax will be melted with natural gas heat," he said. "That's the plan now. If there was another option like an environmentally alternative, we'd look at all options."

Pat Morgan, director of the Lewisburg Gas Department, confirmed information from other sources. She said the city utility made natural gas available to the business park.

"Natural Gas had to be out there for it to be a certified business park," Morgan said of the state requirement. "We support that and want the park to grow, and many of the industries that have come in do want natural gas, especially if they do any production at all. That's one of the first things they look for."

The Gas Department "cut the expense (of extending natural gas pipes to the Business Park) by using our employees to put the lines in," Morgan said. "There was a time line to get it in and if we'd waited for the bid process it would have taken longer."

The gas utility, however, placed its lines along a route that won't be interrupted by the state's reconstruction of Mooresville Highway, she said.

City water lines are to be rebuilt by the Tennessee Department of Transportation because of the road's reconstruction, according to city officials.

"My only concern was the new road coming in," Morgan said. "We actually put a station in along Mooresville Road. "We will not be moving lines at the business park. We consulted the state on that."

Meanwhile, Lewisburg's Gas Department has "two customers out there" at the Business Park: Autom and U.S. Tank and Cryogenics, Morgan said.

"We're looking forward to the candle company moving out there," she continued. "They will be using processed gas, natural gat to melt the candle wax.

The natural gas line "was put-in in-time for the first business to open" on Jan. 14, 2008, Morgan said.

"That's our service area and I can't see why someone would want to use methane instead of natural gas," she said.

As for availability, Youngblood says the availability of landfill-produced methane depends on the specifics of each landfill.

"There is a bell curve," he said. "Every site is different because of the difference in waste. It gets to a peak production... and then it starts to back off, but the window is a large time frame.

"We have a whole gas department in Houston and all they do is manage gas projects.

"There are costs involved in this ... but it's something less than natural gas and long term landfill gas would be evenly priced," he said, countering market price changes for natural gas.

"For a low Btu business that needs gas for hear - plastic extraction business. For those kinds of businesses, we have enough gas right now.

Nevertheless, the businessmen interviewed for his story were apparently unaware of the possibilities.