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Landfill Methane Capture

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Landfill methane emissions is a big problem. Capturing landfill methane, a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, can be an effective way of preventing emissions and producing cleaner energy. Not only does this help the climate by reducing overall release of greenhouse gases into the air but also prevents alternative fuels like coal from being used as sources for electricity or heat production.

In this blog post we will dive into the problem with landfill methane and explore how landfill methane capture can be a way to combat climate change and global warming.


What is Landfill Methane Capture?


Landfill methane capture is the process of extracting methane gas that is produced by the decomposition of organic waste in landfills. This gas, also known as landfill gas (LFG), is composed primarily of methane, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of other gases. The captured methane can be used as a source of clean energy, through combustion to generate electricity or heat, or can be processed for use as a transportation fuel.



Landfill methane capture not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution but also provides a valuable source of renewable energy. Additionally, it can also help to prevent methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Overall, Landfill Methane Capture is an essential step in managing the waste and creating a sustainable future.


How Landfill Methane Impacts Climate Change?


Australia is making strides to reduce its landfill waste, but the truth of it remains - a substantial amount still gets tossed out. Of all kerbside waste sent to be disposed of in landfills, an alarming 55-60% comes from organic material with over 65% from that number being food scraps!


Once in landfill, all organic waste - things like food scraps, garden waste, paper or wood - breaks down and starts to release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is at least 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.


Due to a large volume of disposed organic waste, municipal solid waste landfills became one of the top three worst emitters of methane - along with livestock and the oil and gas industry. At the present moment, landfills are responsible for around 11% of global methane emissions - a number that is expected to increase around 70% by 2050, according to the World Bank.


In one of its recent reports, the UN suggests that reducing methane emissions is one of our best bets in slowing global warming. Unlike carbon dioxide which lingers in the atmosphere for over a century, methane is a short-lived gas - reducing methane emissions thus could almost instantaneously curb climate change.


Landfill Methane As a Valuable Energy Source


Mitigation strategies such as organic waste composting can certainly help reduce methane gas emissions, but for them to have a real effect they have to be implemented fast and have a global complete coverage.

For when composting is not possible, landfill methane capture can be a powerful solution. Through the process of landfill methane capture, methane gas generated from municipal solid waste in landfills is captured and burned as biogas to generate electricity. The climate benefit of landfill gas-to-energy process is twofold: it significantly reduces landfill emissions and eliminates the need for fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, or oil that might otherwise be used.


According to the Project Drawdown, closed and engineered landfills are the best candidates for implementing landfill methane capture technology where at least 85% efficiency can be achieved. In traditional open dumps only around 10% of methane can be captured.


The process of transforming landfill methane into an energy source is pretty straightforward. Landfills that host gas-to-energy technology have to be constructed in sections, where garbage is covered daily with layers of soil or other materials including clay, sand, or grass. Such landfills have installed a network of wells, pumps and pipes that release methane from its depths and pipe it to a processing facility where moisture, impurities and other organic compounds are removed. After being refined and compressed, methane becomes an energy source and can be used in various applications - as vehicle fuel, pipeline gas, for electricity generation and other industrial applications.



A successful example of methane gas capture and further power generation is Mugga Lane landfill located in ACT, Australia. Methane captured at this landfill site is transformed into a green energy source that powers 5,700 homes. Additionally, this project prevents 120,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere - equivalent to taking 30,000 cars off our roads!


Problems With Landfill Gas-To-Energy

Landfill Methane Capture
Landfills can be so much more

At the moment nearly 500 municipal solid waste landfills in America have the technology to transform landfill methane into an energy resource. In Australia, only around one ninth of all operating landfills are currently capturing methane to later transform it into electricity.


There are certain barriers for the wider adoption of landfill methane capture processes. Despite the benefits of capturing and utilising landfill gas, many communities are hindered from beginning projects due to a lack of financial resources or necessary technical know-how. Those fortunate enough to initiate these initiatives often run into difficulties sustaining them in the long term without adequate funding for upkeep and operations; this leaves already existing captures either abandoned or maintained inadequately.


To overcome these obstacles governments around the globe can implement proactive policies favouring landfill operators that use gas-to-energy technologies by providing them with incentives such as tax deductions.

 

With growing concerns about climate change, landfill methane capture technology is emerging as a viable solution for decreasing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Governments everywhere have an opportunity to reduce their environmental impact by promoting the utilisation of captured methane. Not only would it lead to more energy-efficient landfills, but also provide fresh job opportunities and help cut down on air pollution in communities across the world – making our planet just that much healthier!


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