When you think of renewable energy resources, the first images that come to mind might consist of bucolic scenes of windmill farms amongst verdant hills, arrays of solar panels under blue skies, and charging rivers running through dams to create hydroelectric power. These visions may not, however, include one of the greatest and most abundant potential sources of energy available: garbage.
We may reach peak oil in the near future, but considering the average American produces about 4 pounds of junk each day, it does not seem likely that we will be running out of trash any time soon. Companies such as Waste Management realize this and have begun to harness the methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacteria feed on decomposing refuse.
More than 80 Waste Management sites across the country are beginning to harness landfill emissions by using a system of pipes and wells. The gas is then filtered, compressed, and subjected to several temperature changes before it can be used to power combustion engines and turbines that generate electricity. Waste Management uses the low voltage energy it produces to run its own operations, and exports its high voltage electricity into the grid.
One of the most exciting new developments in trash-to-treasure-technology is the development of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) cars that operate with specially designed engines to run on biogas. Biogas can be collected from landfills directly, or after sewage and other organic material have been fermented in a large biodigestor. Fuel cells, like the ones already used by vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, can also be fabricated as fuel sources.
Soon, public transportation and fleets of company cars may run on the byproducts of human castoffs and bacteria refuse instead of fossilized organic matter. The infrastructure models and engineering plans we have been hearing about for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could potentially be reworked to suit the recycling of human waste products.
Our government has also been taking a closer look at garbage and hot, gaseous expulsions (insert your own jokes here). The US Environmental Protection Agency has created the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), a voluntary assistance program that partners with communities, businesses and non-profits to find financing and assess project feasibility for organizations looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate compliance costs. Over 500 partnerships have been formed so far, helping to add to the the nearly 1.2 million homes already powered by landfill-generated electricity.
Would you drive a car powered by biogas? How would you feel about using landfill materials to generate electricity for your home?