Hutchinson Several Kansas landfills are exploring possible uses of methane gas, including turning the highly combustible waste product into an economically viable energy source.
A new gas collection system at the Seward County landfill will help supply the National Beef packing plant with power, and gas from the Brook's landfill in Sedgwick County is already being piped 15 miles to fuel an ethanol plant in Colwich.
Similar projects also are operating at the Allen County landfill and Forest View landfill in Wyandotte County, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"We've been working on the concept and engineering for about six months," said Mike Tabor, director of the Seward County landfill. "We've talked about it with National Beef realistically for about two years."
The Seward County landfill has two landfill cells that are both producing methane, and because National Beef borders the landfill property, the gas will be piped less than half a mile, Tabor said.
He also said gas could be pulled from the two cells for the next 30 or 40 years. Although the system is expected to cost $100,000, it could pay for itself in about six months.
"We have an indefinite supply of gas," Tabor said.
Of 2,300 operating or recently closed landfills in the United States, 395 already have similar projects to harbor and use methane gas, according to the EPA. At least an additional 600 could turn their gas into enough energy to power more than 900,000 homes.
In Reno County, officials say their landfill could generate gas for 15 to 20 years, depending on the levels of moisture in the ground. But they also said a methane gas system there is "two or three years down the line."
"It has to be economically feasible, not costing more to get it than we get back," said county Commissioner Francis Garcia, who supports exploring the idea. "But if we can make a use for it and sell it, it would definitely be worthwhile."
To get to the gas, wells are drilled every 50 to 100 feet and the gas is piped into a central location, where blowers send it down a pipeline to the user.
Advances in technology are improving the profit margins and systems are being designed to guarantee a continual supply of methane within a landfill cell, said Reno County Landfill Supt. Ernie Duvall.
"I've been warned by everybody in the industry that, even if the (computer) modeling looks great and the samples look good, when you get into extraction expect to be disappointed," Duvall said. "But our models say it's worth pursuing."