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All About Landfill Gas Recovery

Updated on August 9, 2010

Introduction to Landfill Gas Recovery

It often eludes the common person when explaining how much goes into the waste treatment and disposal process. It makes sense though--we tend to shutter at the idea of waste. Millions of man hours are spent every year in the United States to: Pick up your garbage, transport it, drop it off at a servicing facility, separate the waste into dozens of categories and properly process the material or otherwise. The logistics are complex, the servicing facilities are painfully careful, precise and meticulous. The bottom line though, is that your unwanted goods will often end up in an incinerator to be burned, or are left to sit in a landfill.

Well the latter doesn't sound very productive, does it? Well it's not really, for the first decade or so. After the landfill is retired, covered and buried is when natural energy processes are taken advantage of. Technology now allows humans to recover methane energy from landfills, which can be used for electricity and powering human civilization!

So how can this be? "I thought it was just garbage", you may be asking. Indeed it is garbage, but decomposition of organic material naturally releases massive amounts of methane (CH4) and other gases that can be utilized to feed power plants across the world. For more information on methane specifically--refer to my article "Our Future is Methane Energy" directly below. Otherwise, lets continue!

The Brief History of Landfill Gas Recovery

It was the 1970s, humans and businesses alike realized it was time to get serious on the topic of airborne pollutants, clean air technologies, renewable resources, and recycling among others. Recycling had started to become a term in the United States, but the industry was still in its infancy. Landfills were becoming full more quickly and thus had become very burdensome on localities. More and more land was being needed for new landfills. Incinerators around the country were at maximum capacity and could not possibly combust any more material from the landfills. Changes needed to be made.

By 1980 the recycling industry had begun to attract investment, research & development and increasing popularity among consumers. Notice I say consumers; waste disposal and recycling is a business--not a government service. Incinerators were beginning to get some relief, and less land needed to be zoned for landfills. As the popularity with the idea of recycling and waste disposal became relevant with the public--the industry soon became swarmed with outrage and criticism; "Burning garbage? Are you kidding me? This needs to stop!". The people were right-- incineration technologies hadn't developed much since the 70's. Lead and mercury were still being burned, and the scrubbers inside of incinerator smoke stacks were generally obsolete. Incineration units started to close doors due to public pressure and local ordinances. The closing of hundreds of incinerators wasn't a big hit on the industry in terms of waste processing logistics--expected net growth of landfill size was for the first time negative or near zero percent. That's right, landfills were finally being relieved--recycling had begun to kick in. Not only that, but waste management companies that also ran recycling infrastructure were augmenting their incomes by selling the newly processed recycled goods, such as scrap metal, plastics, precious metallics, and paper.

There was an issue though--revenue had begun to fall in the sector of energy production. Since incinerators burn waste to generate electricity, and many incinerator units had closed due to public pressure, energy output was low or non-existent. Energy production is important to the waste treatment industry, and new technologies had to be developed to create energy out of the resources available.

With the combination of local municipalities wanting a further reduction in air pollution and green house gases, and the now-new technology of capturing these greenhouse gases and turning them into energy--the problem was solved. It was now 1983 and the technology of storing and utilizing landfill gases had arrived.

Landfill Media

Can you tell that this was a landfill? It's a golf course now.  Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong, 1997
Can you tell that this was a landfill? It's a golf course now. Photo courtesy of the Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong, 1997
Modern landfills are complex, advanced and precise.  Photo courtesy of the US Department of Education.
Modern landfills are complex, advanced and precise. Photo courtesy of the US Department of Education.

How Do Landfill Gases Power my Home?

Since 1983, landfill gas recovery technologies (a mouthful, I know) have been refined, yet the basic premise has not changed. Prior to a landfill being retired and buried, a system of pipelines are installed to siphon natural gases from the material present. Although all gases are siphoned, only methane is collected for energy production at a near-by power plant. After processing and refinement, the methane is combusted to produce water vapor, which powers turbines. You can see how power-generating turbines work below. Since the early 80's, the siphoning technology has grown to such that some estimates believe that 20% of all methane arriving at a natural gas power plant comes from a landfill. Now that is renewable energy for you.

Landfill Gas Recovery in a Nutshell


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    • kcreery profile image

      Kevin 7 years ago from Whistler Canada

      Great Hub Direxmd. Check out the district energy system at Cheakamus Crossing neigbhourhood in Whistler, BC. It's run by the heat from the wastewater treatment plant.

    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 8 years ago from Virginia

      Fascinating info.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 8 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      nice and informative hub.

    • Direxmd profile image

      Direxmd 9 years ago

      It's on page 1 (#7 currently) of Google when searching for "landfill gas recovery" yee-haw! :)

    • WHoArtNow profile image

      WHoArtNow 9 years ago from Leicester, UK

      Great hub, I expect good things for this one Mike :D