Across North Carolina, we are seeing the proliferation of Landfill Gas (LFG) production — benefiting industry, consumers, and taxpayers, while helping provide a cleaner and more self-sufficient energy future.
What is LFG?
Municipal solid waste (MSW), more commonly known as “garbage,” contains biomass materials (e.g., paper, food waste, leaves, wood, leather products, even plastics and other petroleum-based materials) that deteriorate over time, releasing methane gas (US Energy Information Administration). Nearly 85% of what shows up at landfills is solid biomass (US Energy Information Administration).
To create energy from that gas, gas collection wells draw landfill methane into diesel engines, which utilize the methane to run electric generators.
The result: electrical power that is ready for consumption (sale, use, or both).
Image courtesy of WakeGov.com
“In 1960, the average American threw away 2.7 pounds of trash per day. Today, the average American throws away about 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Of those 4.4 pounds, about 34% is recycled or composted, and about 13% is burned and converted to energy. The rest, about 53%, is discarded, mostly into landfills.”
The majority of these LFG projects are already producing electricity that can power businesses and homes, or can be sold at a profit to energy companies to benefit local communities (Department of Energy); and, there are many more LFG energy projects under construction (416) or planned (35).
However, with approximately 2,400 landfills still operating or recently closed landfills in the United States, huge potential for LFG has yet to be tapped. According to Advanced Energy Economy, “…440 of these landfills would provide an additional 855 MW of capacity, enough to generate electricity to power over 600,000 homes.”
North Carolina’s LFG Energy Potential
North Carolina is among the states with greater than average potential when it comes to biomass or landfill gas to energy projects.
Drilling down into data on North Carolina’s energy potential using the U.S. Energy Mapping System, an LFG facility in Smithfield, NC, for instance, has a net summer capacity by energy of 1.5 MW — enough to power thousands of homes.
(image courtesy U.S. Energy Information Administration)
“But it’s not just the growing number of large-scale solar projects found in eastern N.C. or the Shelby or Hickory areas. I recently learned that the Charlotte Motor Speedway is home to a landfill gas-to-energy project, which generates power out of waste produced at racetrack events. How innovative!”
– Bill Thunberg, former Mayor of Mooresville, NC, small business owner, and Board of the Centralina Economic Development Commission. (Independent Tribune)
North Carolina LFG Success
South Wake Landfill
The South Wake Landfill Gas-to-Energy Project, for example, is one of 34 LFG energy projects in North Carolina. It currently producing ±6 Megawatts of continuous power, which can power at least 6,000 homes during peak demand and 12,000 during off peak. They intend to double that production in the next 8 to 12 years. See South Wake LFG in action.
Onslow County Landfill
The first of its kind in North Carolina, Onslow County’s Landfill will draw methane and generate energy from a closed-down landfill, which will continue to produce power for area homes for the next 30 – 40 years. Supplementing that energy production, Onslow landfill will add 6,000 solar panels on top of the 15 acres of the landfill.
“The project will be built at no cost to taxpayers.”
Additionally the county will receive $10,000 annually for the energy companies’ use of the property for energy production, and the energy companies involved with developing the project will give a portion of their profits to Onslow County (TWC News). See Onslow LFG in action.
Catawba Agreement with Apple
Apple currently operates a 183-acre data center in Maiden, NC, in Catawba County. With a new 3.7 acre lease on land in the Blackburn Resource Recovery Facility in Newton, NC, Apple intends to build a renewable energy facility that will harness landfill gas for several purposes:
- A portion of the methane will be sold;
- Some will be used by the county to power local homes;
- Some will be used to run Apple’s facility (Renewable Energy Waste).
The American Council of Engineering Companies awarded Edgecombe County Landfill Gas-to-Energy Project (LFGTE) the Grand Award in the Renewable Energy Category as part of the Engineering Excellence Awards for 2016. Project to generate $250,000 per year in revenue through the sale of power, the project is on track to pay for itself in less than 15 years (S&ME).
The Numbers Tell a Story
Combing through data, one can easily see the enormous potential for LFG and biomass energy in North Carolina. This growing, but largely untapped, source of energy represents job creation, increased revenue, and yet another pathway for cleaner energy in our state.
Moreover, landfills are only one of many sources of methane waste that can be converted into usable energy. Many North Carolina farmers are beginning to take advantage of methane sources to produce clean energy and new revenue streams.