Today’s Chicago Tribune front-paged a story about a Hillside Landfill that is leaking landfill gas (LFG), which is about 50% methane. Methane, you may recall, is one of the so-called greenhouse gases so the EPA generally frowns on its escape from any source other than livestock (and even that’s only true up to a point.) It is flammable and can give you headaches and nausea.

“It’s the worst odor I’ve ever smelled. I’ve smelled dead bodies–I spent a year in Vietnam–and this is worse,” says [Joe] Tamburino, Hillside’s village president. “Once this gets in your home, it gets in your clothes. You can’t open your window to get rid of the odor because it’s worse outside.”

The thing is, if the Hillside landfill people hadn’t let their equipment go to pot, that methane would be producing electricity right now. Uh, huh, you can do that. You can also refine it for use as natural gas or turn it into vehicle fuel. Electricity generation is the most common, though.

Which brings me to that “torch” you see along Route 88 when you are traveling home to DeKalb at night from points east. This is how Waste Management destroys the gas buildup from our own DeKalb County Landfill. It’s called “flaring” and although considered a legitimate way to collect and “dispose” of LFG, I see it as a waste. Take a look at what another Illinois community has accomplished:

Students at Antioch Community High School don’t travel far for lessons in resource management, engineering, and biochemistry. With a new microturbine cogeneration system on campus, students see firsthand how to save money and help the environment. At 180 standard cubic feet per minute (scfm), landfill gas (LFG) is pumped from the adjacent H.O.D. Landfill (a former Superfund site) to twelve Capstone microturbines. This powerful project earned LMOP’s Project of the Year in 2003.

The microturbines provide heat and power to the 250,000 square foot high school, making it the first school in the U.S. to be heated and powered using LFG. The system produces enough electricity (360 kW) to sell excess to ComEd, while recovering heat from the microturbines to heat the school. The school expects to save $100,000 in energy costs every year. Taking only 18 months from grant application to completion, the project shows how diverse parties can come together to succeed. (Emphasis added.)

Antioch took advantage of an EPA program called the Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP), which has facilitated Landfill Gas Energy (LFGE) projects all over the country. To date, there are nearly 400 of them nationwide, 36 of them in Illinois. There are also 25 identified “candidate landfills” for energy projects in our state. Is DeKalb on that list? You betcha’.

So what are we waiting for?