Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. About 18% of the human sources of this potent greenhouse gas comes from the decomposition of solid waste.
The Clean Air Act of 1996 requires large landfills to collect or at least burn off this gas. Since that time, there have been many experiments and a number of somewhat successful efforts to make use of landfill methane. One application that had not made much progress is the use of landfill gas to produce transportation fuel.
But that’s changing. Clean Energy Fuels, the largest supplier of natural gas fuel for vehicles in the United States, has started selling a fuel made from landfill methane and other waste sources at 40 filling stations in California. The company expects to sell 15 million gallons of the fuel this year and has plans to expand the program into other states.
Making vehicle fuel from landfill gas is more expensive than using gas from hydrofracking, for example, but various incentives and regulatory requirements are allowing Clean Energy Fuels to sell their product at the same price as its regular natural gas fuel. Natural gas vehicles have lower carbon emissions than those that run on petroleum, and natural gas fuel is cheaper than either gasoline or diesel.
Large-scale farms, waste-water treatment companies, and garbage companies all have to manage methane emissions. Turning this waste product into vehicle fuel is a win-win approach to a thorny problem.
Fuel From Landfill Methane Goes on Sale
Photo, taken on January 11, 2007, courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Support for Earth Wise comes from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY.