Of the three typical ways of removing methane from landfills — venting, burning, and extraction — only the latter properly disposes of the potentially hazardous gas and offers the option of selling it as fuel. Over the last two decades, 594 U.S. gas-to-energy sites have taken advantage of this benefit, generating 1,813 megawatts of electricity and 312 million standard cubic feet a day of gas, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions 30%.
Methane extraction, however, is a complicated and sensitive process that involves drilling wells into landfill cells to extract and move the methane, a naturally occurring byproduct of decomposing organic waste. Methane poses two hazards. Although it’s in the air we breathe, it’s a health hazard at high concentrations because it displaces oxygen. And it’s dangerous because it’s highly flammable and potentially explosive.
As a result, engineering and installing an extraction system requires expertise that virtually all owners contract out. Here’s what those specialty contractors do and why.