Ceramic Industry

SPECIAL REPORT/RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: Harnessing a Renewable Energy Resource

January 1, 2009
Landfills are poised to bring greenhouse gas offsets to market, resulting in additional incentives for the collection and beneficial use of landfill gas.



Volatile energy prices, greenhouse gas emissions and public perception of industrial operations are substantial issues faced by manufacturers in the ceramic industry. However, many manufacturers have discovered that finding a nearby landfill can provide some relief for these challenges. Maybe that is why “landfill” was the eighth most popular search subject listed on the Ceramic Industry website in August 2008, falling behind “insulator” and just above “saving energy.” Energy and energy conservation subjects are clearly on the minds of ceramic manufacturers.

Most people do not think of landfills as much more than a necessary evil at best and a community liability at worst. However, society’s current primary method of waste management produces a byproduct with a significant energy value, landfill gas (LFG). A landfill can provide a valuable, lower-cost supply of energy that is also often considered green.

In addition, the collection and control of LFG results in significant reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With the greater focus on climate change, a burgeoning market for GHG emission offsets is emerging. Landfills are poised to bring these GHG offsets to market, resulting in additional incentives for the collection and beneficial use of LFG.

Figure 1. Process diagram of a landfill gas energy project.

The Basics

Landfill gas is the natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic waste in landfills. It is comprised primarily of methane, the main component of natural gas, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Instead of allowing LFG to escape into the air, manufacturers can capture and use it as an energy source. Using LFG offers multiple environmental benefits, including reducing odors, minimizing safety hazards, and preventing methane from migrating into the atmosphere and contributing to local smog and global climate change. Methane is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Landfill gas is extracted from landfills using a series of wells and a blower system, which directs the collected gas to a central point where it can be processed and treated depending on the ultimate use for the gas (see Figure 1). From this point, the LFG can be simply flared, used to replace fossil fuel use in a manufacturing facility, or used to power an electric generator. Newer uses of LFG include upgrading the gas to be used in the natural gas pipeline or for vehicle fuel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) has seen an increase in project activity over the past 10 years. Currently, 450 projects are on-line in the U.S. alone (over 1100 worldwide). According to the EPA, at least 540 landfills exist that could economically support a project. These landfills would have a generation capacity of over 1285 megawatts (MW) or could supply 243 billion cu ft per year of gas to industrial end users.

The generation of electricity from LFG comprises over two-thirds of the current operational projects in the U.S. Electricity for on-site use or sale to the grid can be generated using a variety of different technologies, including internal combustion engines and turbines. Some electrical generation projects increase overall efficiency by using waste heat from the generating device to provide hot water or steam for another use.

Direct use of LFG to offset the use of another fossil fuel occurs in about one-third of the current operational projects. LFG can be directly used in a boiler, dryer, kiln, greenhouse or other thermal applications. Currently, the EPA is aware of seven projects in the ceramic industry that use LFG as a fuel source (see Table 1).

The use of LFG as an energy source in the ceramic industry is driven by both economic and environmental considerations. Energy costs have increased significantly over the past decade. In addition, fuel costs have shown a high degree of volatility and are subject to extraneous events, such as hurricanes, that are outside the control of fuel consumers. Higher prices not only encourage energy users to look for less expensive sources, but they make landfill gas energy (LFGE) project economics more attractive.

Industries of all types seek to become more competitive by reducing fuel costs, and communities have been able to attract new businesses by marketing LFG as a low-cost energy resource. In addition, LFGE projects have been instrumental in creating jobs, expanding local economic output, and increasing tax revenue for state and local governments. Greenfield facilities have been strategically placed near landfills in order to take advantage of this renewable energy resource. Boral Bricks and Jenkins Brick demonstrated this with their new facilities in Indiana and Alabama, respectively.

Ribbon-cutting by EPA Administrator Steven Johnson at Jenkins Brick, Moody, Ala.

Environmental Considerations

While realizing significant savings on energy costs when using LFG, ceramic manufacturers are also providing a mechanism for meeting environmental goals. The economic benefits are certainly a powerful motivator, but environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility are also strong market drivers for LFG projects.

Many corporations and individuals are making voluntary efforts to reduce their GHG emissions and are looking to the voluntary market for GHG offsets. This growing demand for GHG reductions has resulted in another motivation for the use of LFG: the development of GHG reduction projects at landfills through the voluntary collection and control of LFG. According to a recent publication, methane reduction projects (such as LFG projects) continue to be valued highly in the GHG markets, with a weighted average price in 2007 of $6.00 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), the basis of trade in GHG markets.1

For example, if LFG is voluntarily collected from a landfill and used in a LFGE project that provides 15 MMBtu/hr to a brick kiln (approximately 500 cu ft per minute of LFG), this would result in annual GHG emission reductions (from the methane destruction) of approximately 52,000 metric tons of CO2e. Based on an assumed market price of $6.00 per metric ton of CO2e, the value of the total GHG reductions would be over $300,000 per year. In addition, the GHG reductions attributable from the offset of fossil fuels in the kiln would be about 6200 metric tons of CO2e per year (based on the offset of natural gas).

Manufacturers should also consider the marketing aspects of the use of renewable fuels such as LFG. More and more companies are looking to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable business practices as part of a corporate philosophy and to position their product in the market in response to customer demands for “green” products. Since LFG has been determined to be a renewable energy by most standards, the use of LFG may assist manufacturers in meeting these goals.

Pottery made in an LFG-fired kiln in Burnsville, N.C.

Multiple Benefits

Using LFG for energy is a win-win-win opportunity. LFGE projects involve citizens, non-profit organizations, local governments, and industry in sustainable community planning and creative partnerships. These projects go hand-in-hand with community and corporate commitments to sustainable operations, both from an economic and environmental standpoint.

For more information about using LFG for manufacturing, contact Rachel Goldstein, Program Manager, EPA Landfill Methane Outreach Program, U.S. EPA (6207J), 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20460; (202) 343-9391; fax (202) 343-2202; e-mail Goldstein.rachel@epa.gov; or visit www.epa.gov/lmop.

SIDEBAR: Would LFG Work for Your Plant?

The LMOP has a number of tools that can help manufacturers determine if a landfill gas energy project could be a feasible alternative for them. The program also offers technical support, such as finding a landfill, estimating gas and energy generation potential, evaluating project possibilities, identifying applicable project incentives, and conducting project economic analyses. Visit www.epa.gov/lmop for additional details.

Links