Energy demand continues to rise as populations grow and industrial and commercial activity expand to accommodate the needs of society. These increasing energy requirements make the development and adoption of renewable energy sources like renewable natural gas (RNG) even more essential, delivering energy security and lower-carbon energy solutions to communities and businesses.
There are numerous factors to consider when evaluating what type of landfill gas-to-energy project is best for your landfill and who to partner with. As an abundant and growing source of methane - the primary hydrocarbon used for electricity generation, heating homes and buildings and thermal applications - landfills can significantly contribute to the transition to more sustainable energy sources while generating economic opportunities.
A growing number of landfills are collaborating with RNG developers to capture landfill gas (also referred to as biogas), upgrade it to RNG and partner with the developers across the RNG value chain. Approximately 68% of operational landfill gas-to-energy projects generate electricity and approximately 17% are used for medium-Btu direct use applications.[EPA]
Landfill Gas-to-Energy Projects – Where to Start
When evaluating the options for a landfill gas-to-energy project, landfill owners should gather data on and evaluate several aspects, including:
- Landfill Gas: The volume and methane levels of the biogas that the landfill generates and captures are primary deciding factors in what type of landfill gas-to-energy project would fit best. The landfill’s lifespan and expansion plans also directly impact long-term biogas volume projections and renewable energy generation potential.
- Current Landfill Gas Usage: If your landfill is currently flaring the biogas, implementing a renewable energy project can provide tremendous environmental and economic benefits. If your landfill gas is currently generating electricity or being used for medium-Btu direct applications, converting the landfill gas-to-energy project to produce RNG may present additional benefits.
- Landfill Location: RNG is a drop-in fuel for conventional natural gas and can leverage existing natural gas infrastructure. Where your landfill is in proximity to natural gas pipeline infrastructure and where it could interconnect can greatly influence the required capital investment and implementation timelines.
- Capital Investment: Depending on the landfill and the type of renewable energy project, the level of capital investment will vary. Several variables such as market conditions, labor, landfill enhancements and equipment and infrastructure needs also impact capital requirements.
- RNG Partner: Most importantly, who you partner with for your renewable energy project will determine how successful it is and how much value it can generate. The renewable energy sector has been rapidly changing and experiencing substantial regulatory reform. In 2022 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed enhancements to the Renewable Fuel Standard and introduced eRINs while more sustainability-focused legislation, like the Inflation Reduction Act and various state-level Renewable Portfolio Standards, were enacted.