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.
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
). 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
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.
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
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
. 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
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
Pottery made in an LFG-fired kiln in Burnsville, N.C.
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.email@example.com; 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.