The Ashes

Technology, Science and other news
May 10, 2009

Trash to Cash; Profile in Green Entrepreneurship

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Filed under : General

landfillThere is real truth to the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Given today’s economic conditions, there are many Americans on a serious search for treasure of any kind. Landfill Gas To Energy (LFGTE) has proven to be just such a treasure and represents one of the many Green alternatives to oil that is ’shovel-ready’.

First let’s rewind the clock to 2007 when Greenwood County, South Carolina was attempting to address the emissions from it’s maturing landfill. It was not unlike the more than 2,300 landfills in the U.S. in this regard. It’s basic chemistry, decomposition produces various gases and the EPA has guidelines or how these are to be dealt with. In the case of Greenwood County, there was a rapidly approaching EPA deadline that was making this all the more critical.

Now enter Fujifilm Manufacturing who was looking for a cheap source of energy to power its 500 acre complex. With more than a thousand residents employed at Fujifilm, they are clearly an important member of the Greenwood community. Through a creative partnership with Methane Power LLC , the methane from Greenwood County’s landfill is piped a few miles to Fujifilm’s campus. The new energy source accounts for 40% of the site’s electricity and saves Fujifilm nearly 50% on their energy costs annually.

James “Jim” Voss, Methane Power’s President and CEO told us that the Fujifilm project was one of several U.S. projects the company has underway. “We have a number of similar projects where we are utilizing landfill methane to produce energy or, at a minimum, to destroy the methane to produce carbon credits. We are constructing an electricity plant in NC (Durham), and have active projects elsewhere in North Carolina and New York.” The approach that Methane Power uses is unique in that it does not own or run the landfills from which the methane is generated. Methane Power buys the rights to the methane and then resells it to end-users looking for alternative energy sources.

Capturing methane energy after a landfill is capped.

Capturing methane energy after a landfill is capped.

Sounds ingenious doesn’t it ?!? Take a problem such as landfill emissions and convert to a revenue source for the landfill operator and a cheap source of power for end-users. And, as a cherry on top, the end-user receives carbon credits for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Fujifilm expects to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% or more annually.

The EPA is fully on-board with LFGTE. They have an entire program dedicated to this opportunity and a website to assist with educating the public at-large. The EPA states that there are 480+ operational LFGTE projects and estimates that there are 520 additional landfills in the U.S. that are good candidates for this type of project

So why don’t we hear more about LFGTE? Jim Voss says it’s the result of several factors. He says that because Wind/Solar Energy projects are larger in scale, they tend to attract more of the major players and media attention. Not coincidentally, Wind/Solar Energy also receives significant financial incentives from the government. “GE, Bank of America, etc invest in wind because of the magnitude of the business and the size of each project.  They don’t invest at all in LFGTE — we’re a small, tiny portion of the business.  Hence, the “industry” is people like me — I don’t have the resources to promote anything other than my projects.  I’m not feeling sorry, mind you, because it is this very nature of the business which allows small companies to exist.”

The U.S. trails the E.U. when it comes to LFGTE for many of the same reasons we trail them in other areas of renewable energy. Jim states, “The EU has much more ambitious renewable energy goals which places a greater economic premium on these projects; and second, the underlying electricity prices and delivered thermal energy prices (ie, for natural gas) are materially higher.  Consequently, the developer can undertake the project with a much more firm and robust financial return — this makes it easier to attract debt and equity for project development.  The US is well behind in this market, and more other renewable energy markets.”

So to recap…solve the problem of landfill emissions, create needed revenue for the landfill operator, create medium-sized companies like Methane Power, provide cheap power to end-users and reduce greenhouse emissions….LFGTE sounds like a shovel-ready project just waiting for the Obama administration to endorse and fund.

Details on the Fujifilm project in Greenwood, S.C.

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