Town captures methane and runs generator for profit

Town captures methane and runs generator for profit

December 3rd, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

This 500-kilowatt generator burns methane gas harvested from the Scottsboro, Ala., landfill, feeding energy back into the power grid. The $2 million generator is expected to generate between $200,000 and $300,000 in energy each year.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

What: A 500-kilowatt generator running on landfill methane gas

Organization: Solid waste department in Scottsboro, Ala.

Location: The city's landfill

How it works: Engineers drilled a series of 50- to 60-foot deep wells in the landfill and connected them with 8-inch pipes. The system pumps methane gas produced by the landfill to the central generator, which burns the gas to create electricity.

How it's green: Methane gas is more than 20 times as harmful to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Burning the methane sends carbon dioxide into the atmosphere instead of the more harmful gas.

Why do it this way? Landfills are normally expenses for a city, but with the instillation of the generator, city mayor Melton Potter expects to see $200,000 to $300,000 of energy produced annually. "It's making our garbage work for us," he said.

What's the cost? The total cost of the project hit about $2 million. As landfills grow, their methane production increases until it hits a point where the federal government requires its disposal. Scottsboro would have paid for some kind of methane capturing system in the near future, but the city dealt with its methane problem before hitting regulation levels, helping secure a $500,000 federal grant.

Advice for others considering green initiatives: Seek out help from government, utilities and other parties concerned about the environment. Scottsboro anticipated future expenses and found a way to turn them to profit with the generator.

Is environmentalism important to the city and why? Potter said it's the government's role to protect the environment. "Anything we can do to protect our environment we want to look at, and this was a great project," he said.