January/February 2010

Garbage fuel for garbage trucks

Hundreds of trash trucks across California are rumbling down city streets using clean fuel made from a dirty source: garbage.

According to The Associated Press, the fuel is derived from rotting refuse San Francisco and Oakland residents and businesses have been discarding in the Altamont landfill since 1980. Since November 2009, the methane gas created from decaying detritus at the 240-acre (96-hectare) landfill has been sucked into tubes and sent into an innovative facility that purifies and transforms it into liquefied natural gas.

Almost 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks run on this new source of environmentally friendly fuel instead of dirty diesel.

In a state that has passed the most stringent greenhouse gas reduction goals in the U.S., the climate change benefits of this plant are twofold-methane from the trash heap is captured before entering the environment and use of the fuel produces less carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline.

"We've built the largest landfill-to-LNG plant in the world; this plant produces 13,000 gallons (49,400 liters) a day of LNG," said Jessica Jones, a landfill manager for Houston-based Waste Management. "It will take 30,000 tons a year of CO2 from the environment."

Altamont is one of two California landfills making LNG; the other is a smaller facility about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Los Angeles. Other natural gas facilities are being planned by Waste Management at some of the 270 active landfills nationwide, and the number could grow quickly as communities seek to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.