Alaska military base using landfill gas for electricity

More local communities are turning to landfills as the source of alternative energy and as a potential new source of revenue.

GE technology is behind a new landfill-gas-to-energy installation at a military base in Anchorage. It is the first such project to be commissioned in the state of Alaska.

Using the methane produced by a local landfill, the system will generate about half of the electricity needs at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The installation is using Jenbacher gas engines qualified under GE's ecoimagination initiative. That's about 6.5 megawatts of peak demand power.

"Beginning in 2013, federal agencies will be required to use renewable energy sources to provide at least 7.5 percent of total electric consumption," said Dan Gavora, CEO of Doyon Utilities. "GE's technology allows us to turn landfill gas (methane) into an energy source for the U.S. military base and also into a revenue stream for the municipal utility, which currently flares the gas instead of selling it. In addition, the plant will help the military improve its energy security and move closer to its renewable energy target."

The facility is owned and operated by Doyon, which will buy the gas that is product under a 20 year agreement; there is an option to extend the relationship to 40 years.

The estimated savings to the base because of the project, based on power that the military won't have to buy, is $30 million over the lifetime of the facility, according to the estimates being published by GE and assumptions about energy prices.

The source for the gas is the Anchorage Regional Landfill, which opened in 1987 and holds up to 40 million cubic yards of waste. The landfill is currently one-third full and probably will reach capacity by 2045; that means the gas emissions potential will only grow over time.

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide with a "global warming factor" that is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide.

There are four Jenbacher G420 gas engines being used in the Alaska project. The company has installed more than 1,650 units on landfills worldwide that have a combined generating capacity of more than 1,650 megawatts.

Earlier this week, I read about a similar project at a landfill in Millersville, Maryland. The project uses technology from Caterpillar and will produce about 3.2 megawatts of electricity per hour.

"Identifying projects that use alternative methods to produce energy instead of coal and crude oil is vitally important to the future health of our environment,” said John Leopold, Anne Arundel County Executive. “This project enables us to power 2,000 homes in Anne Arundel County by generating electricity with the methane we previously collected, burned and discarded. I am proud that this is the second-largest site in the State and one of only 10 in the State. This project is an example of the kind of public-private partnership that pays dividends for taxpayers and the environment.

A recent report from Pike Research suggested that the interest in technologies that can help convert landfill waste to energy will spike over the next decade, with more than 260 million tons of waste being converted into energy by 2022.

In the Asia-Pacific region, waste-to-energy technologies could generate up to 54 percent of the electricity by that time.

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