Energy & Power
Patented process for profiting from rotting garbage
By Anthony Capkun
April 1, 2015 – Landfills can make a profit from all their rotting waste, says University of Texas at El Paso chemistry professor Russell Chianelli, Ph.D., who claims his new patent explains exactly how to make the most out of stinky garbage sites.
The university explains decomposing trash produces methane that can be used to produce electricity or heat, but most landfills don’t produce enough of it to make energy production worthwhile, so they burn, or flare, the methane away.
But Chianelli’s process shows how landfills can up their methane production to turn a profit: by selling it back to the electric company.
The patented (no. 8,956,854) process involves capturing and recycling the exhaust gas that’s produced from generating electricity with landfill methane. The gas can be used to heat the landfill and to provide additional moisture—conditions that can boost the landfill’s overall methane production. Carbon dioxide found within the captured exhaust gas will also release additional methane once recycled within the landfill.
The invention takes this methane-boosting process a step further by suggesting that part of the recycled exhaust gas be used to cultivate algae.
“What makes the methane in landfills are the organisms that are feeding on decomposing waste,” Chianelli explained. “So what we need to do is feed them even more for more methane production.”
Half of the cultured algae can be pumped down within the landfill to further increase methane output, while the other portion of algae could go toward creating biodiesel fuels.
“What’s great about this is that it’s a clean process,” Chianelli said. “Nothing goes to waste. It’s a zero-discharge system.”