Compost as a landfill cover material for the elimination of methane emissions

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Courtesy of ORBIT e.V.

Landfills, with about 40 - 60 Mio t emitted CH4 each year, are considered to be an important global source of the greenhouse gas methane. These emissions are especially caused by inadequate gas collection systems and uncontrolled emissions from old dumps and unauthorised open dumping. With traditional gas collection systems only 40 to 60 % of the produced gas can be collected and reused or safely disposed of. As shown in Table 1, the estimated magnitude of global emissions of methane from landfills are the third main anthropogenic source world wide. We can also see that methane emissions caused by human activity are about two times higher than emissions from natural sources.

According to Table 1 landfill gas emissions assume the same proportions as the human-made annual accumulation of methane in the atmosphere. If we succeeded in largely curbing methane emissions from landfills, this would be an essential contribution to the reduction of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. A low-cost alternative or an additional measure to the conventional landfill gas extraction methods is the microbial oxidation of methane in suitable cover layers. Especially the subsequent capturing and disposal of landfill gas from old landfills is technical difficult and very costly. Methane oxidation by methanotrophic micro-organisms in aerobic zones of the soil is an important sink for natural methane emissions and takes an important rank in many natural systems. For example, in the swamps of Florida and in the marsh lands in Germany, it was demonstrated that methane produced in anaerobic zones was reduced by 70 - 90% in the covering aerobic zones by methane oxidation before reaching the atmosphere (King et al., 1990; Knoblauch et al., 1995). The application of this potential to active and abandoned landfills seems promising. 

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