Trash Talk: Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy – Additional SWAB Conversations

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

To try to get the conversation caught up to date (and put the notes in a format Google, Yahoo, etc. will index), I’m republishing the further conversations the Orange County Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) has had on land fill gas utilization.

Current membership (as of January 2007) and contact list for the SWAB includes:

Contact List
Members
Name Representing Email Work # Home # FAX #
Jan Sassaman (Chair) Chapel Hill (A) janopus@nc.rr.com 933-1609    
Randolph Kabrick Chapel Hill (B) rkabrick@retec.com 484-2200 942-4062

484-8100
Albert F. Vickers Carrboro (B) alvickers@cleansites.com 656-5271 929-0502 929-0011
Linda Bowerman Carrboro (A)

lbowerman@mindspring.com

967-8571    
Vacant Hillsborough (A) Contact Donna Armbrister donna.armbrister@hillsboroughnc.org 732-1270 ext. 71    
Remus Smith Hillsborough (B)   732-3807 732-3807  
Bonnie Norwood Orange County (A)     967-4401  
Joe Clayton Orange County (B) jclayton@nc.rr.com 644-6981    
 
Commissioner Liaisons
Mike Nelson Board of County Commissioners mnelson@co.orange.nc.us      
Barry Jacobs Board of County Commissioners barry.j@mindspring.com 732-4941 732-4384 732-4486
 
UNC Liaison
B J Tipton UNC-CH btipton@fac.unc.edu 962-7251

 

 

962-8794
 
Staff
Rod Visser   rvisser@co.orange.nc.us 245-2308   644-3004
John Link   jlink@co.orange.nc.us 245-2300   644-3004
Gayle Wilson   gwilson@co.orange.nc.us 968-2885   932-2900
Blair Pollock   bpollock@co.orange.nc.us 968-2788   932-2900

From May 4th, 2006’s meeting [PDF]:

Landfill Gas

Wilson states that we are going to initiate a further study to examine two options for possible utilization of the landfill gas. One is to work with the University to determine if it is feasible [for use of the gas by the University] and if so what the economics would be of piping actual gas to Chapel Hill North. It’s probably not worth it if they’re not going to build anything there for six or seven years (as they will miss gas production peak). The other alternative is to consider providing energy for a cluster of government buildings on Eubanks Road, which would be the Animal Shelter, the Operations Center, possible transfer station and a school. In two to three months we’ll have that report and know if it’s a go or not. Economically an option with the University would make more sense and be less costly. They won’t have to worry about generating electricity, putting it on the grid, negotiating with Duke Power; they would clean up the gas a little and pipe it directly to a UNC boiler.

Sassaman asks what will be required for the collection system.

Spire states that [it will require] the wells, piping it altogether to a main header and depending how much it will have to be cleaned up, compressed and used to run a micro turbine or if we can clean it up less and put it in a pipeline to the University.

Wilson notes the industry is moving towards micro turbines and away from internal combustion engines which are noisier and tend to produce more emissions.

Smith asks what does a “well” look like?

Spire replies that a well is a hole dug into the trash that a PVC pipe is stuck into to draw the gas into using a vacuum pump. The wells are 18 to 24 inches in diameter. You can put a lot in and put lateral pipes to connect to vertical headers.

Wilson notes its likely gas will be extracted only from the south side, not the north side.

Spire notes that Greensboro’s landfill is already producing gas.

Norwood asks if there is anyway to gather information about the dangers of the installation?

Wilson states that it’s dangerous with a small “d”. It’s not like it is going to blow up 20 or 30 acres. It’s dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. It’s possible that someone right next to the extraction point might be killed, but I don’t think it’s dangerous to the neighborhood.

Sassaman notes that this is not high-pressure pipeline gas. It is low-grade gas with moisture, CO2, other contaminants.

Pollock notes that the gas company does not want this gas in their pipeline.

From August 3, 2006 SWAB minutes:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that the consultant is tentatively scheduled for the September 12th [BOCC] meeting to make a presentation on one half of the study that they are doing. They have been asked to do a study on providing energy for county facilities on Eubanks Road, which will potentially include a school, a new animal shelter, our operations center and possibly a transfer station. That part is done and will be presented at a future meeting. The other half of the study is to evaluate the feasibility of providing energy pipe line gas to Carolina North, the University facility. We have been instructed that before that study is done to meet with the University. We are in the process of setting up the meeting with the University.

Sassaman asks if the SWAB will get a chance to look at the study before it is presented on the 12th.
Wilson states that you are welcome to see the report.

The formal report was actually delayed (as reported by Wilson in October).

From the minutes of September 7th, 2006:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that there is a landfill gas feasibility study looking at two potential possibilities. One is utilizing landfill gas to provide energy to a complex of local government facilities on Eubanks Road. That part of the study is complete.

The other option is providing energy to the University for their Chapel Hill North facility. That part of the study is underway. That report should be ready for the Commissioners in another month or so and will be shared with you all. The next step is once the report is complete the Commissioners will indicate a preference for one or the other and then the next step of more evaluation and measurement will happen.

Pollock asks if there will be consideration of making electricity but everything to be direct fire.

Wilson states that the University option is essentially cleaning up the gas and piping it directly to them. The other option has sub-options but is generating electricity.

From the minutes of October 5th, 2006:

Landfill Gas Study

Wilson states that I also met with Olver today regarding this project, regarding the option to power a cluster of local government facilities including school, Animal Shelter and our new facility on Eubanks Road or piping gas or generating power for Carolina North. The effectiveness of this is determined by when they will have something on the ground. If it is six or seven years out this is not a good option as we will be going down in gas production. Generally we’re venting gas; we flare gas from one wet well as there have been some special [odor] issues at that manhole. [CitizenWill: emphasis mine]

Kabrick asks is there a draft report.

Wilson replies not at this time. There are draft spreadsheets. The consultant is going to make some changes, take that to the University staff for comments and make a final report to BOCC and UNC and the BOCC will have to decide if they want to pursue one option or the other. The UNC option is break even, [the other is worse]. We can’t take advantage of the credits that a private developer could. The whole set of credits is complicated.

Kabrick asks if you have talked to UNC about the carbon reduction program that the Town has signed up for. This will be a good way to do something with greenhouse gases.

There might’ve been additional discussion post Nov. 2006 but those minutes are not online.

Side note: Minutes of meetings are an important source of information. A delay of months, especially in a discussion as critical as the trash transfer station, is unreasonable. That said, if the county staff are as overwhelmed by the workload as Chapel Hill’s Clerk’s office, then the delay is understandable – but not forgivable.

But it isn’t the folks doing the work that need forgiveness, it is the job of our elective officials, especially those banging their chest about transparent open governance, to provide sufficient manpower and resources to get the job done.

Given that, as a frequent consumer of our public records, and someone that thinks our diligent Clerk’s office needs more help, I’ll be asking Town Council this budget season to allocate sufficient resources for the timely production and publishing of written, audio and video records.

Trash Talk: Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy, A Few Examples

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

I quoted in my post Trash Talk: 1 Megawatt of Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy… a February, 2006 GeoTimes report titled Recovering Landfill Gas for Energy. Two of the authors, Amarjit Riat and Wayne Blake-Hedges work just North of us at Virginia’s Fairfax County I-95 landfill complex [MAP & INFO]:

Riat, a professional engineer, is chief of the I-95 Landfill Complex in Fairfax County in northern Virginia, and has 20 years of experience in construction and management of sanitary landfills. Blake-Hedges is senior engineering technician for the I-95 Landfill Complex, and has 16 years of experience in construction, operation and maintenance of landfill gas systems.

What struck me about this article was the breadth of experience Fairfax County developed in implementing their land fill gas recovery system – a system first implemented 17 years ago.

The landfill gas extraction system in Fairfax County started in 1989, to keep landfill gas from migrating offsite to a neighboring prison complex (Lorton Youth Center) and for future beneficial use of the gas. The original 27 exterior passive vents were converted to extraction wells, including seven interior extraction wells. The seven interior wells were meant to serve as enrichment wells, to ensure that the gas composition had enough methane to allow the gas to be burned in an incinerating flare. On startup of this system, the flow of gas was considerably greater than anticipated, with flows averaging 700 to 900 cubic feet per minute. The county awarded a contract for landfill gas utilization to Michigan Cogeneration Systems, Inc. (Michigan Cogen), in 1990, when it began construction of its first landfill gas-to-electricity plant. The plant went online in December 1991. This first plant utilized 1,150 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas to generate 3 megawatts of electricity for direct sale to Dominion Virginia Power, the local electrical utility. The plant houses four generator units, each capable of producing 800 kilowatts of electricity. Approximately 200 kilowatts are used by the plant, leaving a 3-megawatt net output. Subsequently, the I-95 landfill began expanding its landfill gas collection system and piping to deliver gas to the new landfill gas-to-electricity plant.

Building upon their initial success, Fairfax has expanded their utilization of recovered gas and continued to upgrade their facility as recently as 2005.

In 1992, Michigan Cogen began constructing a second 3-megawatt electrical generation facility. This plant became operational in January 1993, and is essentially identical to the first plant. Like the first, it is also solely fueled by landfill gas. This system consisted of 75 additional interior landfill gas extraction wells, 22 horizontal collection trenches and collection piping.

In May 1997, Michigan Cogen began operating its third landfill gas utilization project. This facility compresses the landfill gas into 10 pounds per square inch, removes the majority of moisture and then delivers the dry gas to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant for use in sludge incineration. In an afterburner process, the gas cleans up the emissions from sludge incineration.

This landfill gas replaces natural gas previously purchased from Washington Gas. Instead, pipelines deliver gas directly from the I-95 landfill to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant. Landfill gas utilization by the pollution control plant is extremely variable and is based on the amount of sludge incinerated and the moisture contained in the sludge, but averages between 300 to 1,400 cubic feet per minute.

In March 2005, five standard natural gas infrared heaters were retrofitted and installed in the maintenance building of the I-95 landfill. These units replaced two existing propane-fired forced air heaters and tapped the existing pipeline that delivers landfill gas to the Noman Cole wastewater facility. A simple treatment system was installed to remove any remaining moisture and contamination. After treatment, the gas is delivered to the heaters through a stainless steel piping system. The radiant heaters use a maximum of 30 cubic feet per minute of landfill gas.

An interesting factoid they present is that “A 1-megawatt electric power plant working on an internal combustion gas engine needs a sustained flow of about 350 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas.”

As I noted before, based on SWAB member Randy Kabrick’s 500,000 cubic feet of methane being out-gassed from our “older”, less productive landfill into the atmosphere daily, our county is currently wasting at least 1 megawatt of electrical generation capacity.

Worse, methane as a greenhouse gas is considered to be more harmful than CO2.

Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight (see box below). Methane’s chemical lifetime in the atmosphere is approximately 12 years. Methane’s relatively short atmospheric lifetime, coupled with its potency as a greenhouse gas, makes it a candidate for mitigating global warming over the near-term (i.e., next 25 years or so).

EPA

Worse yet, the “21 times more powerful” is considered by some to be a gross underestimation as the NASA reports Methane’s Impacts on Climate Change May Be Twice Previous Estimates.

Of course, the benefits extend beyond displacing “outside the county” sources of energy and mitigating gas releases:

Using landfill gas for energy is a win-win opportunity. Landfill gas utilization projects involve citizens, nonprofit organizations, local governments and industry in sustainable community planning, and they create partnerships. These projects go hand in hand with community and corporate commitments to cleaner air, renewable energy, economic development, improved public welfare and safety, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Directly using landfill gas to offset the use of another fuel (natural gas, coal and oil) is occurring in about one-third of the currently operational projects. This direct use of landfill gas can be in a boiler, dryer, greenhouse or other thermal applications. Innovative direct uses include firing pottery and glass-blowing kilns; powering and heating greenhouses and an ice rink; and heating water for an aquaculture (fish farming) operation. Industries currently using landfill gas include auto manufacturing; food processing; pharmaceutical manufacturing; wastewater treatment; consumer electronics; and paper and steel production, just to name a few.

Generating energy through the landfill gas projects provides many environmental benefits. The projects assist in destroying methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, and offset the use of nonrenewable resources such as coal, natural gas and oil. They help reduce air pollution, and the landfill gas emitted from decomposing trash is a reliable and renewable fuel.

The benefits from the I-95 landfill project are approximately equal to any one of these: removal of emissions equivalent to 50,000 vehicles, planting 72,000 acres of forest, offsetting the use of 1,300 railcars of coal or powering 3,800 homes.

The technology is also cost-saving. The savings in fuel costs are approximately $500,000 annually from the landfill gas use at the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant and $5,800 from use of landfill gas for heating the maintenance building at the I-95 landfill.

This from folks that have decades long experience with this technology. The complete Feb. 2006 GeoTimes article is here.

Trash Talk: Waste Not Methane, Want Not Energy

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

One of the “planks” I ran on for Town Council involved inculcating a conservationist ethic within our local government. Besides practicing energy efficiency (Leather Seated SUVs), I suggested we could start using both energy recovery and decentralized energy production technologies to help make our Town’s operations more sustainable and economical.

One such technology is methane recovery.

To quote EPA (links via LocalEcology’s Terri Buckner):

EPA created the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) in 1994 to significantly reduce methane emissions from municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills by encouraging the use of landfill gas (LFG) for energy, which has the added benefit of offsetting the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Since the program’s inception, LMOP’s efforts have reduced landfill methane emissions by nearly 21 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE). The greenhouse gas reduction benefits are equivalent to having planted 21.2 million acres of forest or removed the annual emissions from 14.9 million vehicles.

EPA is interested in developing LFG energy for many reasons:

  • Projects help destroy methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, and offset the use of non-renewable resources such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
  • There are many cost-effective options for reducing methane emissions while generating energy. (To learn more about the economic feasibility of a LFG energy project, see LFGcost-Web under Documents, Tools, and Resources.)
  • Projects help reduce local air pollution.
  • Projects create jobs, revenues, and cost savings.

Of the 2,300 or so currently operating or recently closed MSW landfills in the United States, about 380 have LFG utilization projects. We estimate that approximately 600 more MSW landfills could turn their gas into energy, producing enough electricity to power over 900,000 homes.

Landfill gas emitted from decomposing garbage is a reliable and renewable fuel option that remains largely untapped at many landfills across the United States, despite its many benefits. Generating energy from LFG creates a number of environmental benefits:

Municipal solid waste landfills are the largest human-generated source of methane emissions in the United States, releasing an estimated 38 MMTCE to the atmosphere in 2004 alone. Given that all landfills generate methane, it makes sense to use the gas for the beneficial purpose of energy generation rather than emitting it to the atmosphere. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that is a key contributor to global climate change (over 21 times stronger than CO2). Methane also has a short (10-year) atmospheric life. Because methane is both potent and short-lived, reducing methane emissions from MSW landfills is one of the best ways to achieve a near-term beneficial impact in mitigating global climate change.

It is estimated that a LFG project will capture roughly 60-90% of the methane emitted from the landfill, depending on system design and effectiveness. The captured methane is destroyed (converted to water and the much less potent CO2) when the gas is burned to produce electricity.

Another idea was to use Orange County’s bio-mass waste stream to produce bio-fuels. One of the great thing about attributes of these technologies is that you can start small with pilot projects and build on your success. No million dollar upfront investment required.

Unfortunately, Orange County believes it to be too expensive:

Rod Visser said that this topic has been of interest to the Board for some time in terms of looking into the feasibility of extracting energy from a landfill from methane gas and how might this be used, etc. The staff asked the consulting engineer to provide a brief analysis.
Gayle Wilson said that they looked at three energy recovery options:

• Producing energy either through micro-turbines or internal combustion engines
• Extraction of dirty gas and delivery to a nearby industrial use
• Capturing the gas and processing it to upgrade it and selling it, or putting it into a gas company line

He said that the only two options that the consultant thought were feasible were the high grade BTU pipeline gas or the creation of electricity through micro-turbines or internal combustion engines. He said that the landfill gas recovery process requires a balance of maximizing the amount of electricity produced with the generation ability. The old landfill on the north side is probably not worth pursuing for this. The only one with potential is the new landfill on the south side. The consultants did not seem to believe that there is an economically viable gas energy project. When the staff asked about the new schools planned in the future as well as a new animal shelter, the consultants said that they could do a more focused analysis of providing energy to one or more of those facilities.

The analysis that was done looked at three options and none broke even. Some of the costs were steep and the County would have to invest in a collection system. He said that if the County Commissioners want them to pursue this further, they would need additional information on the facilities and the energy demands.

Commissioner Halkiotis said that it would be nice to explore a micro-turbine providing electricity for the Solid Waste administration building. He would also like to explore this possibility for the schools and the animal shelter.

Chair Jacobs said that there is a critical mass of needs in this area and for them to talk to Steve Scroggs of CHCCS because they are going to operate on a quick timeframe for a new school. He would like to do some additional analyses.

Commissioner Halkiotis said that it might be good to plan on a transfer hookup for a possible micro-turbine machine in design of buildings.

BOCC Minutes, 03/15/2006 [PDF]

But UNC thinks pursuing the idea worthwhile as Commissioner Alice Gordon reported to the BOCC April 4th, 2006:

Commissioner Gordon said that she went to the first Air Quality Advisory Committee meeting and they reviewed how they wanted to reduce greenhouse gases. After the meeting, a representative from UNC spoke to her about the University being interested in purchasing methane gas from the landfill on Eubanks Road. She asked that the County investigate this possibility.

The County’s staff reported back to the BOCC Oct. 24th, 2006 [PDF] explaining the methane recovery options for the Eubanks landfill.

[ Please excuse the formatting, the original is a PDF. I’m looking for the original Powerpoint. ]

a) Landfill Gas Opportunities

Gayle Wilson introduced Bob Sallack of Olver, Inc. Bob Sallack is performing the feasibility analysis for landfill gas and he made a PowerPoint presentation.
LANDFILL GAS RECOVERY STATUS REPORT

Previous Conclusions:
– Based upon current electric rates, the sale of electricity alone will not support development of a Eubanks Road LFG recovery project
– Cogeneration is required to make an LFG recovery project more attractive
o Cogeneration generation of electric power and recovery of waste heat from electric power generation equipment
o Coincident user need for electric power and thermal energy
o Thermal energy (heating)

Microturbine Technology
– Small combustion turbine 25 kW to 400 kW capacity units
– Compact size
– Modular can be brought online quickly
– Less maintenance fewer moving parts
– Multi-fuel flexibility can burn LFG, natural gas, etc.

Cogeneration Opportunities
– Eubanks Road Project
o Solid Waste Operations Center
o Animal Shelter
o Possible Transfer Station
o Auxiliary Site Use
o Elementary School
– Carolina North Project
o Multi Building campus Development (8,251,000 GSF)

Eubanks Road User Energy Demands and Energy Balance graphs

Eubanks Road System Components
– LFG Extraction Wells and Collection System (South Eubanks MSWLF)
– Blower and Flare Station (South Eubanks MSWLF)
– Moisture Removal and Compressor Station (S

Eubanks Road Economic Evaluation

Energy Sales and Avoided Costs $168,100
Energy Production Costs $276,700
Renewable Energy Cost ($108,600)

Eubanks Road Status
– Preliminary Economic Assessment
o Estimated Costs exceed Revenues and Avoided Costs ($108,600)
o Economics Negatively Impacted by Low Thermal Energy Demands of Primary Users

Eubanks Road Key Action Items
– Refine Energy Demands
o Animal Shelter
o School

– Assess Economic Impact of Public/Private Partnership Options
o Maximize Green Power and Energy Credit Benefits

Energy Demand Comparison graph

Carolina North System Components
– LFG Extraction Wells and Collection System (North and South Eubanks MSWLFs)
– Blower and Flare Station (North and South Eubanks MSWLFs)
– Moisture Removal an

Carolina North Energy Summary

Carolina North Economic Evaluation

Energy Sales and Avoided Costs $507,400
Energy Production Costs $506,700
Renewable Energy Cost $0

Carolina North Status
– Preliminary Economic Assessment
o Economically Viable Breakeven given Current Assumptions
o Must Maximize Cogeneration Energy Production and Usage
o Delays in Carolina North Development Timeline

Economic Feasibility Time Dependent Decline in LFG Generation Rates

– Environmental Benefits
o Green Power/Energy Conservation
o LFG Emission Control at Landfills

– Economic Proforma Submitted to University for Review

Carolina North Key Action Items
– Finalize Economic Proforma
– Establish Energy Contract Framework
– Conduct LFG Testing Program
– Finalize Implementation Plan

Renewable Energy Incentives
– Public Sector
o Energy Improvement Loan Program (EILP) – $500,000; 1% Interest; 10-Year Maximum Term
o NC GreenPower Production Incentive RFP Procurement Process; $0.015- 0.019/kWh

Renewable Energy Incentives

– Private Sector
o Renewable Energy Equipment Manufacturer Incentive; 25% of Construction (equal installments over 5 years)
o Renewable Energy Tax Credit; 35% of Construction (equal installments over 5 years); $2,500,000 per installation
o Energy Improvement Loan Program
o NC GreenPower Production Incentive

Chair Jacobs asked if the Chapel Hill operations center was considered and Gayle Wilson said that the infrastructure is already present there, but it could be considered. Bob Sallack said that the only thing that could happen there is the sale of electricity.

Commissioner Carey asked about the timeline for the economic proforma. Bob Sallack said that the University has a proforma, but there is no timeline for feedback yet.

Gayle Wilson said that the County is somewhat at the mercy of the University.
Chair Jacobs said that groups are being put together to study infrastructure the first and second weeks of November. He said that he does not think that building will begin until 2009.

Commissioner Carey asked about the estimated cost of equipment to make this work.
Bob Sallack said that the capital cost for the Eubanks Road project is $2.5 million and for the
Carolina North project is $5 million.

Chair Jacobs asked about the $500,000 and if this was total or annual and it was answered annual for 30 years.

Chair Jacobs said that this is to be taken as information. Gayle Wilson said that the staff would come back with the final report as soon as they get information from the University.

The projections in this preliminary report seem underweighted on the benefit-side and over-weighted on the cost-side. And there’s a few curious omissions, like the Section 45 and Section 29 ($0.009 per kWH) tax federal tax credits and the sale of CO2 as incentives to form a private/public partnership.

Still, a good start to build upon. As the methane fritters away, I hope we don’t have too long of a wait on UNC.

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