Thursday, December 3, 2009

Green Power & Green Building Design meet in VA

Above: A Waste Management landfill gas-to-electrical energy well in Ohio.
Copyright: Waste Management and Roadell Hickman/The Plain Dealer

By Ed LeBard, Associate AIA | LEED AP

With the completion of a new landfill gas-to-energy plant in Glenns, Virginia*, Waste Management is leading the recycling and green energy industry, not to mention amping up the efficiency of its facilities. If it acheives LEED certification, the Glenns, Virginia plant will be the first LEED facility for Waste Management.

According to a WM press release, they operate the largest network of landfills in the industry with 300 sites and directing the disposal of millions of tons of waste per year. The company also provides natural, renewable energy source such as methane gas to supply energy to 400,000 homes and removing 2 million tons of coal from the atmosphere per year.**

The old saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure" rings true in the landfill gas-to-energy arena. With the vast supply of methane, which is created naturally through the decomposition of waste in landfills, green power is becoming easier to attain. In the same category of green energy as wind and solar power, Methane can be used as a British Thermal Unit (BTU) gas for industrial use or sold through a third party gas-to-energy plants to fuel engine or turbine driven generators of electricity.**

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved of landfill methane gas as an environmentally-friendly option to replace the nation's fossil-fuel use (i.e. coal). The EPA has the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) ***with clear objectives to protect the environment by promoting the recovery and use of landfill methane gas .The LMOP program encourages development of a renewable energy power plant like the recently opened Glenns, Virgina plant.

I had the privilege to interview Douglass L. Whitehead, Waste Management's Director of Operations in Virginia and a 13-year industry veteran:

EL: Can you give us a little history on Waste Management's landfill gas-to-energy program and how many such facilities are up and running throughout the country?

DW: There are over 100 such facilities around the country, including 4 operating in Virginia and 1 under construction. The landfill gas-to-energy program was developed in the late 1980's with research development taking place. Construction for the plants took place in the mid-1990's with tax credits first as an incentive. Then around 2004, Waste Management took off on their own without the tax incentives and by 2009, we have doubled the number of gas-to-energy plants around the country due to the rising price of electricity.

EL: The EPA supports the landfill gas-to-energy movement; where do you think Waste Management's future lie in the recycling and green power arena?

1--We are number one in the industry in terms of processing and packaging recycling plants. We pioneered "single-stream" recycling where we divide recyclables at a central plant with little waste, rather than attempt to sort materials at the curbside.

2--Waste Management is also leading the field in the number of gas-to-energy plants. We are currently number one in waste-to-energy plants. Waste-to-energy is a result of placing garbage in a combustion pit, where it is burned, and the resulting steam is used for both steam heating and to create electricity, 60 megawatts. The waste-to-energy plant in Baltimore, Maryland produces enough recycled green power to provide electricity for 30,000 homes per year.

3--The new landfill gas-to-energy plant in Glenns, Virginia takes in regular garbage which decomposes over 6 months into primarily methane and carbon dioxide gases. We then extract out the methane gases to be provided to our customers. We have blowers and flares that suck out the methane gas through a large pipe and by law, its required to have a vacuum in the well.

To reiterate, Waste Management currently have 110+ gas-to-energy plants and 16 waste-to-energy plants. The gas-to-energy plants burn methane and provide on average 6 to 12 megawatts and average around $10 million per plant. The waste-to-energy plants burn roughly 2,400 tons of garbage (municipal solid waste)per day and provide 60 megawatts. However there have been no new plants since the early 1990's. These plants are quite expensive at $500 million roughly each. They are far cleaner than coal or oil. Waste Management plan to build 2 more plants in the next 5 years and both projects would aim for LEED-NC certification.

Since we took on the green energy initiative back in the late 1980's, we have been leading the industry in all these categories.

EL: It's noted that Waste Management also sell excess green power from methane gas to other third-party industries to supply homes and commercial buildings; is this something that would further impact any company's bottom line and profitability over time?

DW: We ship methane gas to third party customers, for instance, we sell landfill generated gas to a BMW manufacturing facility. The BMW facility uses the gas to provide power to the turbines and bake the finishing paint on the assembled cars. It's difficult to achieve a project of that magnitude as it demands intense energy use nearby. The pipeline to the BMW plant was 9.5 miles, just about the outer limit for LFG (landfill-gas) pipelines.


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