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Capitalizing on natural gas.

Correctional Facilities May Be Able to Use Landfill Gas as Fuel

In this era of shrinking public-service budgets, new ideas on how to save money are always worth examining. Choosing a less expensive fuel source, such as landfill gas, which is produced naturally, is one way many private companies have saved money, and it is a way correctional facilities can realize substantial savings in their operating costs, too.

Landfill gas is inexpensive, efficient and environmentally sound. It is produced as refuse decomposes, and due to its high concentration of methane (approximately 50 percent), it is both a major contributor to the risk of global warming and a valuable source of energy. Until the past decade, landfill gas was viewed as a nuisance at best and a hazard at worst. Today, many landfill owners and private-sector solid waste management companies are finding ways to put landfill gas to use.

For example, Lucent Technologies' plant in Columbus, Ohio, has implemented a landfill gas-to-energy project, which has resulted in a $100,000 reduction in the company's annual fuel bill. Lucent's plant buys landfill gas from a nearby landfill as supplemental fuel for its main boiler, and generates 40,000 pounds of steam per hour for plant heating, process uses and hot water heating. The $1 million project was paid for by Network Energy of Ohio (the project developer), with all key boiler equipment installed in the conversion belonging to Lucent.

Landfill gas-to-energy projects, like the one Lucent is implementing, eliminate detrimental air emissions; prevent landfill methane from contributing to global climate changes; prevent methane from migrating off-site and becoming a safety hazard or odor problem; and provide local utilities, industries and consumers with a competitive source of energy. In other words, landfill gas-to-energy facilities provide a unique form of "recycling." Refuse is hauled to the landfill as waste and returned to the consumer in the form of energy.


Several factors must be considered when determining whether use of landfill gas is feasible at a particular facility, including the facility's proximity to a candidate landfill, gas demand, potential fuel savings and technical and retrofit issues. Of these considerations, proximity to a landfill is the most critical. Due to the cost of constructing a pipeline to transport landfill gas to the boiler plant, a potential direct user must typically be located within five miles of the supplying landfill.

Many correctional facilities may be located close to landfills and therefore benefit from direct landfill gas use. For example, of the 34 correctional facilities in Virginia, five are located near landfills. These landfills could provide energy to the nearby correctional facilities at a savings.

The Prince George's County, Md, detention center is one correctional facility using landfill gas as an energy source. Landfill gas is transported two miles via pipeline from the county's Brown Station Road Landfill. At the detention center, the landfill gas is used as a primary fuel to provide heat and hot water; and also as a means to produce electricity. Because the electricity produced exceeds the facility's needs, the surplus is sold to the local utility company. As a result of this project, the county has an annual revenue of more than $1 million from the sale of excess energy and the savings realized by not having to purchase fuel for heat and electricity.

The Landfill Methane Outreach Program's (LMOP's) Opportunities for Landfill Gas Energy Recovery is a reference book describing landfills within certain states, and it can help practitioners determine whether a candidate landfill ripe for energy recovery is located nearby. (Handbooks for nearly 30 states are available). LMOP also has developed a computer database which cross-references candidate landfills from the profile handbooks with potential landfill gas direct users in the vicinity.

A facility's gas requirement is another important factor in determining whether landfill gas direct use is feasible. Because there is no economical way to store landfill gas as it is continually generated from landfilled waste, an ideal end user will have a steady fuel demand that is less than or matches the landfill's gas production.

The attractiveness of landfill gas as a fuel source also depends on how much the facility pays for fuel, and the potential savings expected from using landfill gas. The costs associated with landfill gas use usually are negotiated by the landfill owner, the landfill gas-to-energy project developer, affected property owners near the facility and the landfill gas direct user. The landfill gas developer will require the end user to enter into a long-term agreement to purchase the gas. Landfill gas developers and/or landfill owners typically will pay for the development of the landfill gas-to-energy project. The end user facility may need to make minor modifications to its equipment.


Four methods are used to convert landfill gas to energy for the approximately 140 landfill gas-to-energy projects in the United States: 1) conversion to electricity in internal combustion engines or turbines; 2) upgrade to pipeline quality gas for injection into natural-gas pipelines; 3) emerging technologies, such as those used in alternative vehicle fuels and in fuel cells (which generate electricity through an electrochemical process); and 4) direct use of minimally processed gas in boilers, industrial processes and greenhouses located near the landfill.

Direct use in boilers, kilns and other manufacturing processes is the simplest, most cost-effective way to use landfill gas, and provides many benefits to end-user facilities, including cost savings; a dedicated local fuel supply; the achievement of environmental goals; and positive public relations in the community.

Direct use of landfill gas is reliable, and it requires only minimal processing and minor modifications to existing combustion equipment. For example, boiler burner adjustments or retrofits may be necessary to accommodate the lower Btu value of landfill gas, and systems which automatically adjust fuel-to-air ratios may be necessary. (Btu means "British thermal units," which is the way to measure the amount of energy in gas). The costs for these modifications vary; retrofitted burners can range from $120,000 for a 10,000 lb/hr boiler to $300,000 for an 80,000 lb/hr boiler. There are, however, no additional operating and maintenance costs associated with landfill gas use in boilers. Some facilities may only have to perform a minor burner retuning to burn landfill gas instead of natural gas. A third-party developer also may assume the cost of installing and maintaining the pipeline needed to transport the gas.

The LMOP maintains a database of landfill gas direct-use experts who are available to provide potential industrial gas users with more detailed advice on the subject. This allows facility energy managers to contact other facility energy managers who are successfully using landfill gas to ask questions or discuss how the project is performing.

With demands placed on correctional facilities to provide an increasing number of services with shrinking resources, landfill gas offers an economical and efficient energy option. Using landfill gas to satisfy part, if not all, of a correctional facility's energy needs, can result in substantial savings.

Is Landfill Gas Right for Your Facility?

Many correctional facilities in the United States are in a unique position to take advantage of the significant environmental and economic benefits available through the direct use of landfill gas as a fuel. To learn more about these benefits, and whether a landfill gas-to-energy project is right for your facility, interested facility managers should consider the following steps:

* Review EPA's Opportunities for Landfill Gas Energy Recovery landfill profiles for your state (where available) to locate nearby landfills that are possible candidates for energy recovery. Or contact EPA directly to get a database run of nearby landfill sites with good fuel potential.

* Review EPA's Turning a Liability Into an Asset: A Landfill Gas-to-Energy Project Development Handbook to learn about technologies, costs and financial options.

* Contact EPA at 1-888-STAR-YES to get a list of landfill gas direct-use experts from the program's Industry Ally Program Expert List.

These documents, together with more information on LMOP, are available from the following sources:

* The Internet: htlp://;

* The LMOP Hotline: 1-888-STAR-YES; or

* By mail: USEPA-6202J, Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Division, Attn: LMOP, 401 M St. SW, Washington, DC 20460

Tom Kerr is program manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Landfill Methane Outreach Program.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the feasibility of using landfill gas as fuel in correctional facilities; corrections' use of landfill gas as fuel
Author:Kerr, Tom
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Aug 1, 1997
Previous Article:Addressing the needs of elderly offenders.
Next Article:Are you getting what you need?

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