I remember with great clarity going to USEPA’s landfill methane outreach conference (LMOP 2003) in Washington, DC, where I listened with genuine astonishment to presentation after presentation that came to what, at the time, was the somewhat unexpected conclusion that the future for landfill gas was more than good…it was hot!
Keep in mind that these were presentations to an audience composed of people who had grown ancient watching various governmental bodies hem and haw over how to deal with political, environmental, regulatory, and economic issues. So I think the largely optimistic tone took many by surprise.
Barely halfway into the first morning’s agenda it became clear monumental change was afoot. Pointing the way to things to come were back-to-back presentations by representatives of the Department of Energy, who outlined alternative energy programs that not only included LFG, but proceeded to label the resource the most favorable from several perspectives, including the environment, economics, and LFG’s energy contribution to national energy goals and homeland security.
Even before the implications of the DOE presentations had fully sunk in, representatives of two manufacturing concerns—S.C. Johnson and General Motors—made them even more indelible by telling of their companies’ success in bringing in gas from nearby landfills to meet their needs. Allow me to paraphrase the mutual and essential messages they conveyed:
- Reducing GHG emissions is good not only for the environment, but it also adds luster to the corporate image.
- Reducing GHG emissions has positive economic value in emissions credits…both in terms of cash and/or as a regulatory relief trading chip.
- LFG is presently price competitive with traditional fuel sources in many parts of the country and destined to become ever more so in the future.
- LFG provides an enterprise the ability to determine and hold stable long-term fuel costs without regard to fluctuations in commercial fuel prices
- LFG is a 24-hour-per-day, seven-days-a-week resource.
- LFG provides security from interruption of operations resulting from disruption to commercial fuel delivery activities.
Notice what was going on here. Of the points listed, only the first two were “iffy” or subject to outside acceptance. The last four advantages were “real” with tangible, take-to-the-bank, bottom-line value.
What was important here from an historical standpoint was that on both the federal and private enterprise fronts, landfill gas was finally being recognized first and foremost for its resource value rather than as an environmental trading chip.
iClouds on the Horizon?
I bring this up to call to your attention a news item I received on April 3, 2012, announcing Apple’s 4.8-MW fuel-cell energy project in Maiden, NC, where Apple is in the process of building a 500,000-square-foot data center to support the company’s iCloud online data storage system and its Siri voice-recognition software. According to the company, the fuel cell that will be built by Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy could be operational by the end of 2012. To make things even more tantalizing, it will be co-located with a planned 20-megawatt solar farm: http://www.siliconvalley.com/sv2020/ci_20317709/apple-build-nations-largest.
What’s this have to do with waste conversion or landfill gas? Well that has yet to be determined, but consider that if Apple intends to sell electricity to a utility such as Charlotte-based Duke Energy and wishes to take advantage of renewable energy credits from the utility, it would need a renewable source of natural gas—biogas or LFG—from which to extract hydrogen to run the system.
Now I’m not going to suggest that opportunities such as this are going to come out of the woodwork in the near future (after all, who has the ready cash hanging around that our friends from Cupertino do?) but I will suggest to you that there are public and private entities around the country—see my previous Editor’s Comments at http://www.mswmanagement.com/MSW/Articles/The_Times_They_Are_AChangin_16360.aspx—who will be looking for partners.
Furthermore, I do not think you’d be straining the bounds of civility by alerting your community’s economic development people to be on the lookout for such opportunities.
Author's Bio: John Trotti is the Group Editor for Forester Media.