The towering mound of dirt covered garbage on the north side of Interstates 55/70, near the Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, will soon be providing natural gas to Ameren Illinois customers.
Very little new garbage is delivered to the Milam Landfill these days (most area waste goes to the nearby North Milam Landfill), but more than 40 years of waste is decomposing 24 hours per day at the site, creating methane gas and carbon dioxide, or landfill gas. A new Waste Management renewable natural gas facility on the site will process the captured landfill gas, turn it into pipeline ready gas, and inject it into the Ameren Illinois pipeline.
Expected to be online in the coming days, the Milam Renewable Natural Gas Facility joins the existing Milam Gas-to-Energy facility, which has been converting gas from the landfill to electricity since 1991. The 2.4 megawatts of electricity from the gas-to-energy facility has been placed in the Ameren Illinois grid, but will now be used to provide all of the power needed to operate the renewable natural gas facility.
Waste Management spokesperson Lisa Disbrow said the company’s decision to build the new facility rather than increase capacity at the existing gas-to-energy facility fit with the company’s sustainability goals. In 2007, Waste Management set a goal to reduce emissions in its fleet of trucks by 15 percent, and increase fuel efficiency by 15 percent, by 2020, Disbrow said. By the end of 2012, the company had achieved a 20 percent reduction in emission and a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency. Compressed natural gas powered trucks, which emit fewer greenhouse gases than diesel engines, helped the company meet its goal.
The Milam Renewable Natural Gas Facility is will process approximately 3,500 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) of incoming landfill gas. This is as much gas as it takes to fuel about 200 Waste Management CNG collection trucks each day, and represents more than 5 percent of the natural gas that is used in Waste Management’s entire CNG fleet per day.
The renewable natural gas facility is Waste Management’s first in Illinois, and third in the country. Nationwide, Waste Management has 134 landfill projects using landfill gas to generate electricity, produce renewable gas, or displace fossil fuel. These projects produce the equivalent of more than 650 megawatts of power capacity, enough to power almost half a million homes, and displace the equivalent of about 2.5 million tons of coal per year, the company said.
As of July 2013, there were about 621 operational landfill gas projects in the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency. Most of these projects use biogas to produce electricity rather than natural gas.
Illinois EPA director Lisa Bonnett was at the Milam Renewable Natural Gas Facility for the grand opening ceremony on Nov. 12. Bonnett praised the economic and environmental impact of the facility.
“This project is a great example of proactive measures that will improve our environment while driving Illinois’ economy forward,” Bonnett said.
Construction of the facility provided the equivalent of 17 union jobs over a ten-month period, Disbrow said. There are three full-time employees at the facility.
Like wind and solar, landfill gas is a renewable source of energy endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an alternative to fossil fuels. The Milam Renewable Natural Gas Facility also reduces the site’s emissions. Because the gas is treated, rather than burned onsite, Waste Management anticipates a 60 percent reduction in emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter.
Disbrow said the best thing about the renewable natural gas facility is how it brings waste full circle.
“We are taking trashing trash from the curb and turning into gas that can be used to heat the home,” Disbrow said.