Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Will valley garbage turn to energy?

Project receives $150K in stimulus funding

Express Staff Writer

Southern Idaho Solid Waste has initiated a program near Burley that could see methane gas, a natural byproduct of garbage, transformed into energy and returned to the power grid.

The publicly owned entity manages Blaine County's Ohio Gulch Transfer Station along with the solid waste operations of six other counties that have garbage shipped to Burley. Executive Director Terry Schultz said the project is getting off the ground with the help of a $150,000 federal grant.

About $130,000 of the grant, part of stimulus funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, will be used to drill four or five vertical gas collection wells at the Milner Butte landfill.

Schultz said the wells, to be drilled in March or April, can only be built once a section of the landfill is closed to avoid damage to the wells and pipes. About 18 acres of the 155-acre landfill site have already been closed.

Currently, the Milner Butte site features lateral wells, which collect methane and transfer the gas to a single collection point, where it is burned in an enclosure and thus kept from entering the atmosphere.

"Methane is a pretty potent greenhouse gas," Schultz said.

The horizontal wells burn just over 300 cubic feet per minute of methane, which equates to the destruction of 4,500 tons of greenhouse gas per year.

However, Schultz said, the new vertical wells would increase the burn rate by 25 to 30 percent, bringing it closer to 400 cubic feet per minute of methane destroyed.

Simple destruction of the greenhouse gas is not the end goal, though, and Schultz has said the district is planning to install a temporary generator this summer that would allow the gas to be turned into 0.9 megawatts of electricity.

The plan is to install a permanent, more powerful, power generator by the end of 2011, which would be able to crank out between 1.6 and 3 megawatts of electricity.

Both of the generators would be constructed by a private-sector business, with which the waste district is hoping to partner by the end of the summer. Schultz said the partner would market the electricity and sell it to other companies seeking to buy carbon credits.

From these sales, the district would receive a royalty fee that could be used to develop additional alternative energy projects or to offset operational costs of the landfill site.

According to Schultz, as more portions of the landfill site fill up and are closed, the district will be able to add more generators.

Jon Duval:

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