New conversion system creates power from landfill gas

The gas recovery and power generation system at the Maryville Alcoa Blount County Landfill was built by Energyne Power Systems.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

The gas recovery and power generation system at the Maryville Alcoa Blount County Landfill was built by Energyne Power Systems.

There’s gas in the hills, and a host of folks turned out Friday to celebrate it.

More than 50 people were on hand to cut the ribbon on a gas recovery and power generation system at the Maryville Alcoa Blount County Landfill. The system will capture methane gas and convert it into electricity that is then returned to the TVA power grid.

William Brinker, operations manager for Enerdyne Power Systems - which built the facility - explained how the process works. “Trash comes to the landfill and as it decays, it creates landfill gases,” he said. The gas -- methane and carbon dioxide - is captured in a series of wells that are drilled into the landfill, usually 10 feet deep each, said Brinker. Lateral lines capture these gases which then connect to header lines which feed a blower flare station.

Brinker said the 35 wells were drilled in June of 2010, the collection system of lines was completed in August of 2010 and the blower/flare station was put in place in November of 2010. The treatment skid was finished in July, and the Caterpillar engine/generator was installed earlier this month, he said.

Alcoa Gas Producers will hold the rights to the gas drawn from the landfill. Revenues are generated from power that goes to TVA.

Brinker said the plant will convert about 95 percent of what it recovers in methane gas to power, which would work out to about a megawatt of electricity. This is enough to power 1,000 homes, he said. “It generates revenues if we generate more power than we use.”

Brinker said the facility will capture 350 to 380 cubic feet of gas per minute from the 35 wells that are sunk into the ground of the landfill. The gas then goes into a large Caterpillar engine which powers the electric generator. The engine generates 1,000 kilowatts of power on the 100 kilowatts of power it uses.

Kenny Wiggins, director of Public Works and Engineering for the City of Alcoa, said the idea for the project started three years ago. The operation is a win-win for the owners of the landfill - Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County - and Alcoa Gas Producers, a private company that built the plant and will run it. “It didn’t cost us a dime,” Wiggins said. “It’s all being paid for by Alcoa Gas Producers. We’ll be splitting the revenue, and it gets rid of methane in an environmentally friendly way. It is a win-win for us,” he said.

Don Mull, longtime mayor of Alcoa, said recalled serving on the city commission in the 1970s and how the decision to create a joint landfill between Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County was controversial. Once the decision was made, people saw that it was a professionally-managed landfill, inspected monthly by the state, he said.

Mull said this is the next step for the landfill - capturing methane gas and converting it into electricity that is returned to the power grid. “It’s like science fiction,” he said. “It’s good to have the people of Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County - all of us working together in unison.”

District 10-A County Commissioner Gerald Kirby was impressed with what he saw. “The main thing is this is about air quality,” he said. “The second thing is they are producing power and that’s putting revenue back into the cities and counties to maintain the landfill.”

Mike Fontinell with Denso appreciated the cooperation that happened to make the facility a reality. “I think it is a great opportunity for the people of Blount County. It’s a great partnership with lots of different partners, and it will help the environment and offset energy needs,” he said.

David Leverton, senior field director for U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, was impressed the partners were able to find something of value in waste. “They found a way to turn methane into a useful product: electricity,” he said. “It is what is encouraging about East Tennessee - the cooperation with regard to a partnership that works well together for the benefit of the community.”

Charlene DeSha, executive director with Keep Blount Beautiful, liked that the facility captures greenhouse gases before they escape into the atmosphere. “We think this is very important for the community. We’re excited to educate the community about this new addition to the landfill,” she said.

Keep Blount Beautiful hosts children at a landfill classroom as a way of educating people about the environment in Blount County. “This is another way we can make a cleaner, greener Tennessee,” she said.

Victoria Ludwig with the Environmental Protection Agency said capturing and converting the methane into electricity has the same effect of removing 8,100 cars off the road or planting 9,000 acres of trees.

Ludwig said 555 other landfills across the country also are generating power from their captured methane gas. “We had two projects celebrate ribbon cuttings in the same state in the same week, which is a first for the United States,” said Ludwig. The Bi-County Landfill in Nashville was officially opened on Monday.

Jarrod Brackett, CEO of Fort Loudoun Electric, found inspiration in the flame from the torch burning off excess methane at the plant. He compared it to the Biblical story of the fire cloud that led the Israelites when they wandered with Moses in the wilderness.

“I hope that flame will be a vision for Blount County,” he said. “Having a cleaner, greener environment is a plus for everybody.”

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