Landfill Gas Energy

Tyler Thorne
December 12, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014

What is Landfill Gas Energy?

Landfill gas energy is a very viable source of renewable energy and is a byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in solid waste, containing approximately 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide, with less than one percent of non-methane organic compounds and small amounts of inorganic compounds. [1] When waste is first banked in the landfill, it goes under an aerobic stage of decomposition where small amounts of methane are generated before ultimately undergoing a year of anaerobic conditions where the waste is decomposed producing larger amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. [1] After this process, the methane and carbon dioxide produced are used as a source of renewable energy. This plentiful source of energy is generally used for electricity, but is also directly used as a fuel through combustion or heat. This source of energy has become very popular in the United States due to the abundance of benefits that are associated with it and the flexibility of its uses.

Why Landfill Gas Energy?

As far as renewable energy is concerned, landfill gas is one of the most effective areas of renewable energy due to the many positive aspects that come with it. Using landfill gas as a source of renewable energy helps to meet energy needs, improve environmental and health concerns, and also is beneficial through an economical standpoint. By capturing methane from landfills, various forms of energy such as electricity, boiler fuel, steam, alternate vehicle fuel, and pipeline gas are produced rather than being dissipated as waste and being emitted to the atmosphere. [1] Other than being superior in terms of energy, this renewable source is fitting for other reasons such as environmental effects. In fact, collecting landfill gas to produce energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps air quality in communities as it reduces emissions of hazardous pollutants and odors. [1] Landfill gas is also suitable from an economical standpoint for that it generates revenue for local governments along with providing job creation and market development. Further, one of the most important benefits of landfill energy projects is that it conserves land by getting rid of waste and increases overall space. As expressed previously, landfill gas energy is fitting in a myriad of ways. The question is not why landfill gas energy, but why not exploit this landfill gas energy resource?

Development, Technology, and Expansion

Although landfill gas energy is prosperous in its own right, there are still needs for improvement. Development of this renewable energy source, both in terms of technological expansion and landfill projects, needs to be a priority for the future. This renewable type of energy is already established in its own right, but advancements must be made so it flourishes in other realms. New technological advancements to landfill gas help capture methane to prevent it from being admitted to the atmosphere and have reduced landfill methane emissions between 60 and 90 percent, which are only going to increase as technological strategies improve. [1] Around 70 percent of landfill gas projects are used to generate electricity through many realms of technology such as combustion engines or gas turbines, both of which are efficient but call for technological advancements to improve the use of this energy. [1] Furthermore, expansion in terms of getting more landfills up and running for energy reasons needs to be a focus in developmental areas for the future. Roughly 600 landfill gas projects are operating in the United States, while there are over 500 additional landfills that are attractive for project development. [1] As these project sites increase along with technological advancements, the environment and energy resources will only continue to benefit as a result.

Conclusion: The Future

Landfill gas energy is one of the most viable sources of energy, in terms of success rates, available in the United States today. Although this renewable energy source is being utilized greatly, there is a need to expand and overcome barriers to implement more landfill gas energy projects. In order for projects to be built, these aspects must be met: the landfill must generate at least 1 million tons of waste and meet size specifications, meet technological demands, must have the right party to structure the development of the site, and ultimately find the right community that would permit the processes involved with implementing a landfill gas energy project. [1] In other words, not every area that has landfill waste is a candidate for a project such as this. Everything must be perfect, but there is a demand to find the places across the country that meets these standards. After establishing itself as a promising source of renewable energy, landfill gas energy projects need to be a focus for the future for that they are very efficient, dependable, and cost efficient unlike many other types of renewable energy. Ultimately, landfill gas energy has an abundance of advantages and opportunities. By implementing more landfill gas energy sites, emissions will be reduced which contribute to global climate change, non-renewable resources will be offset, air quality will be improved, and jobs will be created along with economic benefits for local communities and businesses. [1] The benefits are endless, and the future is bright for landfill gas energy.

© Tyler Thorne. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Landfill Gas Energy," U.S.Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-430-R-09-047, 2012.