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Landfill Gas

For campuses located near an active or recently retired landfill, landfill gas offers an opportunity to derive significant energy from a renewable energy resource.

The following links go to sections that describe when and where landfill gas systems may fit into your climate neutral plans.

As part of a long-term climate plan, obtaining landfill gas from a single landfill is a temporary solution because gas production begins to decline as soon as the landfill is closed to accepting new waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes "Landfill Methane Utilization", which includes an overview of benefits, a list of technologies involved, and technical considerations for landfill gas projects.

Campus Landfill Gas Options

Landfill gas projects are one of the few technologies that supplies renewable energy at the scale required by large campuses. These campuses can take advantage of these landfill gas systems in several ways:

  • Combust landfill gas on campus: Landfill gas systems require nearby landfills to supply fuel. Such a project usually involves installing a pipeline from the landfill to the power plant on campus. It represents significant infrastructure development that includes a pipeline, gas filtration and pressurization, and conversion equipment such as a boiler for heating or a power turbine for electricity production. This technology is most appealing to campuses that currently use natural gas as fuel for turbines or boilers. The EPA publishes the LFG Energy Project Development Handbook, a detailed handbook for engineers and site managers about how to develop a landfill gas project.

  • Invest in regional landfill gas systems: A campus can take advantage of economies of scale by partnering with neighboring organizations or communities to invest in regional renewable power plants that run on landfill gas and that may be located far from campus. Such a project would require an agreement with the power company to purchase electricity from the regional plant.

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Considerations for Campus Landfill Gas Installations

Is landfill gas right for your campus?
  • Is the campus located near a landfill?
  • Does it pay high fuel prices?
  • Does it have a district heating system?
  • Does it use gas turbines?
  • Is it considering fuel cells?

Research campuses should consider the following before undertaking an assessment or landfill gas energy installation.

Siting

Landfills are a fact of life in most populated areas, offering plentiful opportunities for landfill gas energy projects. The EPA reports 541 active landfill gas energy projects in the United States and another 510 potential candidate sites. This website provides a preliminary assessment of landfills near your campus.

State resources to identify permits and policies that may affect landfill gas projects can be viewed at this EPA website.

High Fuel Costs

If you are in an area that has high costs, the payback on a landfill gas installation will look more attractive. The EPA developed tools to estimate the cost of a landfill gas energy project compared to your current energy sources.

District Heating Systems

If your campus has a district heating system, you have much of the infrastructure in place to take advantage of landfill gas through combustion or combined heat and power.

Gas Turbines

Campuses that already use gas turbine for electricity production or combined heat and power can leverage landfill gas as a potential energy source. Read more about when it would be advantageous for research campuses to use combined heat and power systems on campus.

Considering Fuel Cells

In the future, campus managers may consider using fuel cells for electricity production from landfill gas that produces no emissions. Currently, this would be categorized as an emerging technology.

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Leading Example: University of New Hampshire Landfill Gas Project

Photo of two pipelines winding their way down a hill from a highway in the background.

This landfill gas pipeline winds its way down from the New Hampshire Turnpike near Durham to the University of New Hampshire, where it is used for fuel for the university's combined heat and power system.
Credit: University of New Hampshire Photographic Services

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is the first major research university to use landfill gas as its primary energy source. UNH already powers its campus with a relatively new (2006) gas turbine combined heat and power system. Landfill gas will eventually provide 85% of the energy needed to heat, cool, and provide electric power for the campus. The campus expects a 10-year payback on the system cost of nearly $50 million. Extensive information about the landfill gas conversion and construction of the pipeline are documented on the UNH Website.

Additional examples of research campus landfill gas projects that also involve partnerships with local communities include:

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Technology Basics

Landfill gas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, offers multiple benefits to the environment and local economy from a local energy resource. If methane gas escapes from the landfill into the atmosphere, it is a very harmful greenhouse gas—20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Among the more than 2300 municipal solid waste landfills currently operating or recently closed in the United States, more than 450 have landfill gas utilization projects. The EPA estimates that an additional 500 landfills could support landfill gas installations. If this gas were used to produce electricity, it would be enough to provide power to about 700,000 homes.

The following resources explain the fundamentals of landfill gas energy technologies:

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