World’s Largest Landfill Gas to LNG Plant Opens in California

logo_wm_headerWaste Management (s WM), one of the country’s largest landfill operators, today is opening what it says it the world’s largest facility to convert landfill gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG). Once at full capacity, the $13.5 million facility, located at Waste Management’s landfill site near Livermore, Calif., will purify and liquefy up to 4 million gallons per year of the alternative fuel, which produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum when combusted.

The plant is a joint venture between Houston-based Waste Management and Linde North America, a Murray Hill, N.J.-based subsidiary of The Linde Group, a global gas and engineering company. Linde built and will operate the plant, which has produced 200,000 gallons of LNG since the commissioning process began in September. Landfill gas, which is generated from the natural decomposition of organic waste, is about 50 percent methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Refining that gas for use as a transportation fuel or to generate electricity reuses what otherwise would have been a wasted resource and reduces its greenhouse gas contribution.

Four California agencies, including the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board, Air Resources Board and Energy Commission, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, contributed a $2.3 million grant for the project.

Waste Management, which owns 277 landfills in the U.S., previously announced a goal of developing 60 landfill gas-to-energy projects by 2012. The company (which last week reported an 11 drop in profit for the third quarter of this year) said it aims to produce 700 MW of electricity from about 170 projects in four years. The Environmental Protection Agency said that as of December last year there were about 480 operational landfill gas projects in the U.S. and 520 landfills are good candidates for projects (here’s a map by the agency).

But landfill owners might soon be able to tap a second revenue stream besides the sale of fuel or power produced at these sites. Landfill projects could become a major business opportunity if a nationwide cap-and-trade system is established.  In 2007, landfills accounted for about 22 percent of all methane released in the U.S., according to the EPA. Landfill owners could sell GHG offsets into the cap-and-trade system by capturing the methane at their sites. But that depends both on Congress actually passing a nationwide cap-and-trade bill and on that bill including language that would allow this practice, neither of which is certain.