It may be garbage to everyone else, but to us, its gold.

-Mr. Campbell, plant manager for GSF, Allentown, Pennsylvania


        Social expectations in current times show a growing support for 

conservation programs such as curbside recycling, conservation education, 

and alternative energy sources including reclamation.  Much of the state 

and federal government is following suit through grants, tax breaks, and 

other such incentives.  One such practice is the recovery of landfill gas 

for energy use.  Methane gas comprises almost half of the gas generated 

from landfills.  Since methane is highly combustible and has qualities 

similar to the common natural gas used in many homes and businesses 

across the country, the recovered gas may be used as an alternative or 

recycled form of energy.  This project will examine a few of the basic 

facets required to develop such a technology in the United States with 

the intention of creating a general protocol to apply toward any part of 

the world.  There will be four main areas of concern including 

construction and operation, economic analysis, social  impact, and global 


        Construction and operation considerations will include factors 

such as location siting, physical restraints, maintenance, and the 

ability of the landfill to adapt to fluctuating situations such as 


        More emphasis will be placed upon the two important areas of 

economics and social impact.  The economic analysis will prove to be 

extremely important in that the cost effectiveness may well determine the 

feasibility of such a project.  First, it is necessary to determine 

whether sufficient funding can be met to cover capital costs.  If the 

capital cost can be met, the operational cost will then take precedence.  

        Social impact will play a major role in many decisions.  How will 

it affect the community and their perceptions?  What are the local health 

concerns and how will they be discovered and addressed?  Property value 

will be of great concern to many home and business owners surrounding the 

location.  Politics will enter heavily into the decision of both the 

construction and operation of the landfill.  How will this affect peoples 

attitudes toward other such projects as incineration and hazardous 

waste?  If government funded or supported, the publics opinion of the 

government in general and all its other projects, related or not will 

probably change.  Whether it is for the better or for the worse will 

depend upon their attitudes toward the landfill project and how it is 

handled.  Thus there will be the question of how to increase public 

awareness, understanding, and communication.  This may prove to be the 

central issue of social impact.

        Finally there will be an attempt to extrapolate the results to 

apply to various situations around the world.  This will be done in order 

to obtain a clearer answer to the ultimate question, is widespread use of 

this growing technology both feasible and acceptable?  This section will 

pull together the issues and results from the other three areas and will 

use the transition theory proposed by William Drake in Towards Building a 

Theory of Population Dynamics: A Family of Transition as an aid to 

policy-makers.  This theory states that a period of upheaval occurs when 

a set of related variables do not switch from being parallel in a 

simultaneous fashion.  The transition occurs as the remaining variables 

catch up with the variable already changed (Drake, 1993).  There will 

also be an attempt to create a loose protocol for deciding whether a 

recovery system can be built and how to begin building it.

The price of black gold and the incentive to find an alternative fuel

        Just last year, for the first time in history, oil imports to the 

United States accounted for more than half of the nations oil consumption 

with every update in 1995 breaking a new historical record.  The Clinton 

administration has declared rising oil imports a threat to national 

security (Myerson, 1995).  It has been demonstrated that increasing the 

world price of oil from $28 dollars a barrel to $50 dollars a barrel 

would cause a greater loss to the U.S. than to any other country, thus 

implying an embargo against the U.S. would be very successful.  A look 

back through history at the two oil price shocks of the 1970s has proven 

that dependence upon imported oil is costly and that an increase in 

imported oil will also increase the risk of disruption.  This disruption 

can be measured through the price of the energy.  Figure 1 shows the 

price of oil peaking during the oil crisis of the mid 70s then dropping 

down to the approximate level the United States is experiencing today.  

Perhaps the most startling depiction, is the tremendous amount of 

fluctuation of the price of oil compared to that of natural gas, which 

has remained relatively constant throughout the past decades.  High oil 

imports, therefore, put the United States at the mercy of such 

fluctuations.  One way to steady this behavior is to increase domestic 

production of oil in an attempt to decrease the sensitivity to outside 

market disturbances.  


figure 1 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

However, domestic production of oil has been on a decline despite the 

fact that 90% of all new exploratory drilling is done by the U.S., and 

with 75% of the estimated total recoverable oil already discovered, a 

breakthrough is not in sight (Folkerts-Landau, 1984).  The data in figure 

2 shows energy consumption out growing energy production.  The deficit, 

so far, has been compensated through increasing the amount of energy 

imported to the U.S. . However, further projections show that, given 

current trends, the U.S. will still fall short of filling the deficit in 

the future, even with the inclusion of imports.  Later data analysis will 

show that, to compound the situation, there may be a transition headed 

towards the reduction of the production of oil as a fuel source.  


figure 2 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

exponential fit for all data


figure 3 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995) exponential fit for all data
The prevalent attitude with the lawmakers is to get away from importing 

energy.  It is a policy based upon this previous data, which effects may 

all be elegantly summed through a simple application of chaos theory 

(figure 4).  Arlinghaus et al. has proposed a chaotic method to view 

population-environment dynamics, which may also apply to this situation.  

When data is plotted alongside the line y=x (at which input equals 

output), the intersections of these two lines, or fixed points, will 

become either attracting or repelling points, depending upon the area of 

interest on the 



figure 4 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

exponential fit for energy import data

Figure 4 depicts such a relationship.  During the mid 60s, the import 

trend passed a benchmark, an attracting point.  At the moment, the United 

States is between two fixed points.  If the stress to increase oil 

imports were removed, the trend would naturally tend to decline towards 

the mid 60s level.  However, there is a threshold of irreversibility at 

which point, the natural trend would be to increase out of control 

towards infinity.  If this point, only twenty years away at the year 

2015, is breached, imports would become extremely difficult to harness.  

Therefore, measures must be taken to bend the import curve away from this 

point in hopes that the future intersection will never occur.  To 

accomplish this, the energy deficit must thus be filled by alternative 

sources.  The administration is currently searching for ways to encourage 

domestic energy production.  Methane recovery is one such method that may 

be utilized in asserting a little energy independence.  Scott Skill, 

executive director of National Bioindustries Association has forecast, 

landfill gas could supply 5% of U.S. natural gas needs, and thats a 

profoundly large number, and one of the ways this country is going to cut 

its trade deficit (Peterson, 1995).  Figure 5 proves a transition towards 

increased natural gas usage is feasible.  It has happened in the past.  

During a twenty year stretch from 1960 to 1980, United States energy 

consumption underwent a successful natural gas/coal transition.  Coal use 

dropped dramatically, but an equally dramatic increase in natural gas 

usage picked up the slack.


figure 5 (Source: Annual Energy Review, 1993)

Examination of the transitions in United States energy production show 

that this phenomenon may already be underway (figure 6).  There have been 

many transitions in the past four decades when, at various times, each of 

the big three energy sources (coal, oil, and natural gas) enjoyed a stay 

at generating the most energy.  However, upon further inspection, it can 

be seen that oil production has followed a very steady overall decline.  

Although coal quite recently experienced an increase in production 

percentage, it, too, is starting to decline.  Natural gas is the lone 

rising major energy source and will soon rank first in percentage of 

energy production. 


figure 6 (Source: Annual Energy Review, 1993)
Energy production from waste, such as methane recovery systems, is 

increasing along with this trend, implying its contribution to natural 

gas production will be significant (figure 7).  Future policy changes, 

such as ones presented later on, may bend this curve into more of an 

exponential shape.


figure 7 (Source: Annual Energy Review, 1993)
What is methane gas?

        Methane is the primary component of natural gas and landfill gas 

and can be generated by the anaerobic (oxygenless environment) bacterial 

decomposition of organic waste (figure 8).  This gas is insoluble in 

water and lighter than air so it will tend to rise up and out of a 

landfill into the atmosphere (Lafond, 1992).  Methane is emitted 

primarily by anthropogenic sources which account for about 70% of all 

global emissions.  Landfills are the largest anthropogenic source in the 

United States with the equivalent of 6750 MegaWatts of electricity 

generating capacity escaping to the sky last year; enough to power more 

than four million homes (Hogan ed., 1993).  


figure 8 (Source: Chestnut, 1991)

Since methane can be produced through the decomposition of organic 

materials only, it is important to characterize a potential sites garbage 

content when determining if a landfill energy recovery project is 

feasible.  Composition varies slightly from site to site within a 

country, and may greatly vary from actual country to country (figure 9).


figure 9 (Source: Qian, 1995)

In the United States, approximately three quarters of municipal waste is 

organic.  Due to the advent of widespread recycling, the organic content 

of garbage will continue to rise as glass, metals, and aluminum are 

separated from the waste stream.  Figure 10 depicts this forthcoming 

transition towards a more organic composition with organic content rising 

sharper than the inorganic composition.  


figure 10 (Source: Qian, 1995)

So why retrieve landfill gas?

        On the mildest and most local level, it is considered a plain 

nuisance, causing the unpleasant odor so much associated with decomposing 

garbage.  There is also a much more serious health issue.  Aside from the 

release of harmful volatile organic carbons (VOCs), the methane which 

comprises the majority of landfill gas is obviously extremely combustible 

and possesses the insidious ability to migrate underground (Lafond, 

1992).  Quite recently, a Madison, Wisconsin, apartment exploded when a 

tenant lit a cigarette, with the most plausible explanation being 

traveling gas from the nearby landfill (Eldred, 1986).  Local vegetation 

may also be affected.  Not too long ago, the ground was bare at the Carne 

Landfill in New Jersey.  The plants would take up the methane in their 

roots and die.  However, ever since the recovery project began, there 

have been definite signs of spring growth all around (Peterson, 1995).  

On a slightly grander scale, smog can be created given the proper 

atmospheric conditions, along with acid rain.  And on the grandest global 

scale, both carbon dioxide and methane are major greenhouse gases.  

Methane is pound for pound more potent than carbon dioxide, responsible 

for roughly 18% of the total contribution to radiative forcing, a measure 

of global warming.  Atmospheric methane concentrations have risen sharply 

at about .6% per year and have more than doubled in the last two 

centuries.  The good news is that much of these effects can be avoided 

through the reclamation and combustion of landfill gas.  Generators used 

for this purpose are very efficient and are able to combust these 

compounds breaking them down into components having little or no effect 

on the environment (Carolan, 1987).  Aside from producing this 

clean-burning methane, the reclamation displaces the coal or petroleum 

that would generally be used in its place (Hogan, 1993).  Similarly, the 

local community benefits by retaining revenue that would otherwise have 

been used to import the energy from an outside source (Lafond, 1992.  

Naturally, this would also work on a macroscopic level.  The EPA is 

recognizing these benefits and are pushing for future regulation 

requiring the collection and monitoring of landfall gas.  More and more 

landfill owners and operators are realizing that while they may not reap 

royalties, the activity is still positive. (Carolan, 1987).

Part I: Construction and Operation


        Siting a landfill is perhaps the most complex and certainly the 

most time-consuming step in constructing a landfill.  At present day, 50% 

of all landfills catch their repose in rural areas, while 25% are placed 

on industrial land, and the remaining 25% on other properties.  However, 

while a fill may be located well outside a city, urban growth often 

catches up and overgrows the host community, thus changing its site into 

residential land (Atwater, Dec 1989).  There is such a variety of facets 

to the decisions, it is difficult to find an equitable approach.  One 

method put forth by Swallow et al in his study, Siting Noxious 

Facilities, seems to give a fair general overview combining approaches 

across several disciplines.  A sound method should address both technical 

and sociological concerns.  The technical side should include expert 

advise regarding engineering, safety, and environmental criteria 

(Swallow, 1992).  It is important to make an attempt to foresee the 

unexpected.  The Seattle Midway Landfill was a model site until toxins 

were illegally dumped into it (Eldred, 1986).  The sauce-political 

approach should emphasize public access to the decision-making process.  

Swallow proposes a three-stage approach.  Stage 1, the first stage, 

examines which sites have the physical requirements for a waste 

facility.  This includes the availability and cost of the land, 

hydrology, topography, and climate.  Care must be taken to balance these 

factors since some of the preferred criteria are contradictory.  Case in 

point, the site should be in close proximity and accessible to the 

primary waste-producing urban center.  However, it is generally best to 

locate far from residential neighborhoods.  This stage produces a long 

list of possible sites that will further be narrowed by stage 2, social 

suitability.  This section involves the education of the public and 

determination of long term effects on the community.  Issues unearthed at 

this stage will be delved into further in the discussion of social 

impact.  This is arguably the most important consideration.  All concerns 

are debated at this point and a short list is created of perhaps two or 

three communities.  It is noteworthy that it is also at this juncture 

that many solely economically-based selection models break down.  The 

final decision is made at third stage.  The basic concern is finding an 

acceptable compensation package.  It many cases, the compensation to the 

host community is so alluring, the final selectees will auction for the 

right.  An obvious drawback to this system is the ample room available 

for political manipulation.  This can partially be avoided by clearly 

announcing beforehand , the criteria set for both the long and short 

lists (Swallow, 1992).  

How is methane retrieved?

        Methane production begins approximately one or two years after 

waste placement.  The lag time accounts for the amount of time taken to 

deplete the oxygen in the fill so that anaerobic methanogenesis may 

thrive.  A series of blowers and compressors create a vacuum inside the 

landfill.  This pressure funnels the gas into perforated pipes which, in 

turn, head toward the cleanup facility where the gas is filtered and 

heated to remove the moisture (Qian, 1995).

What to do once it is recovered

        Once retrieved, landfill gas can be used  in one of three ways.  

It can be cleaned and compressed to pipeline quality, then sold to a 

natural gas distributor.  The cost to upgrade gas is quite expensive, but 

the landfill is able to sell it directly to a power company without 

having to identify a specific customer.  A second option combusts the gas 

in an on location generator.  The energy is then generally used for 

maintenance needs on the site itself.  The third, and most profitable 

option, if it is available, is to sell it to an industrial plant as 

medium grade boiler fuel, which contains about half the energy value of 

pipeline natural gas used residentially.  Ideally, the medium grade fuel 

customer would be located no more than five miles away (Hogan, 1993).  

Fluctuations in both demand for energy and seasonal waste generation may 

be handled by mixing in mined natural gas when needed (Lafond, 1992).

Estimating methane output (figure 11)

There are numerous methods used to estimate the generation of landfill 

gas.  A simple equation derived by the EPA in a 1993 report to congress 

on Opportunities to Reduce Anthropogenic Methane Emissions in the U.S. 

offers a quick, handy recipe.

For landfills over 1 Mg:

methane (m3/min) = 8.22 + 5.27 W

        where W = amount of waste measured in Mg (106 grams)

For landfills under 1 Mg:

methane (m3/min) = 7.43 W

        where W = amount of waste measured in Mg (106 grams)

For each of the above equations, it is standard to assume a 85% 

efficiency (Hogan, 1993).


figure 11 (Source: Hogan, 1993)
Note: There is a significant amount of uncertainty in determining the 

exact amount of waste generated in a country, thus a range of estimates 

is often given when depicting trends for large areas, such as the United 


Part 2: Economics

        Ultimately, the profitability of a landfill gas recovery will 

depend largely on the price of energy at which the site is located (John, 

1995).  These recovery systems are highly sensitive to fluctuations of 

market energy prices.  At an expected price of 5"/kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 

the year 2000, it is profitable to recover methane from more than half of 

all U.S. landfills.  A penny less per kWh, and it would feasible to 

recover gas from just 15% of all landfills.  A penny more, however, and 

the figure rises to 75%.  Currently, prices range from 2"/kWh to 10"/kWh, 

with an average of 6"/kWh (Hogan, 1993) (figure 12).  As common sense 

dictates, recovery works best where energy prices are high or where there 

is a population boom requiring power companies to find more power 

(Eldred, 1986).  It may be useful to seek out locations with population 

dynamic transitions showing a simultaneous population boom and energy 

transition toward natural gas or alternative fuel.


figure 12 (Source: Hogan, 1993)

The low, average, and high estimates correspond to the possible charge 

for electricity of 4"/kWh, 5"/kWh, and 6"/kWh, respectively.  As is 

apparent, the sensitivity of these recovery projects is extremely high.  

Currently, the United States is on the path following the high estimate.

        The economic future of landfill gas generation is bright.  New 

federal tax credits are increasing the value of gas for many landfills.  

Specifically, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 extended the Section 29 tax 

credit for non-conventional energy production until the year 2008.  The 

credit is approximately equivalent to 1"/kWh.  

        An additional savings may be redeemed through the cost of 

reducing carbon dioxide (CO2).  Since CO2 is a major greenhouse gas, it 

is advantageous to reduce CO2 emissions.  The estimated cost of doing so 

is approximately $15 per ton.  Since this recovery process not only 

reduces methane emissions, but CO2 emissions also, an additional savings 

of about 2"/kWh may be attached.  Plus, the savings from displacing the 

fossil fuel that would otherwise have been used to create the energy 

totals to approximately .6"/kWh (calculating 1.5 lb CO2 avoided per kWh).

        The overall savings from the Section 29 tax credit and the cost 

effectiveness of reducing CO2 is about 3.5"/kWh.  This assistance is 

significant noting the sensitivity of the recovery system to energy price 

(Hogan, 1993).

Estimating collection system cost

Again, the 1993 EPA report to congress provides a handy equation for 

estimating cost.

Collection System Capital Cost = W.8 * $470,000

        where W = amount of waste measured in Mg (106 grams)

Operational and maintenance cost = 10% of Capital Cost

        includes 6% for labor-related cost (such as wages and overhead)

        + 4% non-labor-related cost (such as administrative and insurance)

(Hogan, 1993).

Estimating generator cost

MW = methane (m3/min) * .1765

Capital Cost = $1,200,000 per MW

Operational Cost = 13% of Capital Cost

(Hogan, 1993)

Part 3: Social Impact

Property Value

        Property value depreciation is often one of the reasons for host 

community opposition to the siting of a new waste facility (Atwater, Dec 

1989)  Landfills affect many environmental and social characteristics, 

all of which are generally reflected in the property value of a home.  

Issues of concern to home owners include the scenic view (or lack 

thereof), quiet, safety, health, risk, nuisances, social impact of a 

stigma on the community, environmental change, government property value, 

the unfairness of one area being impacted while other surrounding 

neighborhoods enjoy benefits, loss of confidence in the government, and 

retardation of residential development (Atwater, Sept 1989).  The 

December follow-up study to the September property value study surveyed 

homeowners with respect to their objections to a landfill (table 1).  The 

shear nuisance of the landfill was the major concern.  However, all the 

impacts are theoretically inherent in the property value.

Facility Impacts on Neighborhood        Proportion of Residents with 

Negative Beliefs

Nuisances       66 %

Health Risks    45 %

Property Values 41 %

Community Image 41 %

table 1 (Source: Atwater, Dec 1989)

One way to compensate homeowners for a perceived loss in property value 

is to offer property value guarantees.  A property value guarantee 

ensures the homeowners of the hypothetical fair market value of the home 

as if the landfill never existed.  The guarantee is valid even to the 

point where the landfill owner will buy the house if it is not sold 

within nine months.  A study by Atwater and Zeiss on the effect of 

landfills on property values examined 15 case studies covering a variety 

of both rural, urban, and suburban locations.  The results were 

surprising in the sense that they could find no strong correlation 

between the landfill and its host community.  Out of the 15 cases ranging 

equally from rural to suburban to urban communities, 6 cases showed a 

decline in property value, 8 cases showed no effect, and one case 

exhibited an actual increase in property value.  Of the landfills studied 

with recovery systems, they found waste-to-energy plants that use the 

latest technology and are operated cleanly did not impact on residential 

property value or development.  Property value guarantees, although 

unnecessary for monetary compensation, were found useful for the simple 

fact that they acknowledged community concerns (Atwater, Sept 1989)  

However, in a follow-up study and survey, only 50% of the people polled 

found property value guarantees acceptable compensation, therefore, it is 

only a marginally effective public relations tool (Atwater, Dec 1989).

How to Communicate with the Host Community

        Many landowners agree that demonstrating concern for proper 

environmental management is the proper way to position the industry with 

the public.  Therefore, reclamation projects such as energy recovery in 

its essence, can create good public relations (Carolan, 1989).  The 

education of and communication with the host community is both the major 

and most volatile component of the landfill creation process.  In the 

past, siting was generally dictated through a economical-political 

process.  The public did not have much input into the events that would 

affect them.  This brought about such issues as environmental racism 

which generally targeted poorer communities that were not able to object 

to waste facilities placed in their district.  This process can be 

greatly improved by creating a dialogue between the landfill owners and 

the public.  An excellent case study of such a dialogue is the siting of 

the Maricopa County Landfill in Arizona which incorporated town meetings 

and liaisons as a communication link.  Four hundred angry residents 

attended the first meeting.  The county received the message and 

immediately expanded the site selection using frequent town meetings to 

obtain suggestions from the public for possible locations.  A hierarchy 

was also created through the establishment of advisory and steering 

committees.  The districts elected official, Carole Carpenter, made sure 

the county was given adequate information, the advisory committee was 

alerted to all decisions, and the media was well informed.  This was 

crucial to ensure that facts were always in tact and residents could 

still gather information if they were unable to physically attend the 

meetings.  Carpenter encouraged the airing of all concerns, debates are 

just part of the process to arrive at a consensus about a landfill site 

that is not only environmentally sound, but socially acceptable (Landfill 

Siting..., 1986).  Twenty-four original sites were narrowed down to 

seven, which the advisory committee carefully analyzed.  When it came 

time to make the final site selection at a town meeting, not one person 

objected.  The meticulous system worked, and the Deputy County Engineer 

noted, we werent getting anywhere until the people got involved in the 

study.  Through public meetings, they learned about landfills, and they 

educated us about what was important to their neighborhoods and them 

(Landfill Siting..., 1986).  The process was time consuming, but as 

Carpenter explained, the public involvement process takes time, but 

people should recognize a year or so is not a long time to go through a 

successful process for siting and starting up a landfill (Landfill 

Siting..., 1986)  This siting method, which closely follows the method 

proposed by Swallow et al, should be widely implemented with careful 

consideration that the town meetings not be used as persuasion by either 

side, rather as an informational session and dialogue.  Any scientific 

experts involved should be careful to simply explain the situation rather 

than justify any proposed decisions (Kaminstein, 1990).

How to compensate a host community

        Every discussion with the host community, particularly during the 

final selection, will include a compensation package unique to the 

concerns of the public.  There are four logical, sequential steps that 

may be used to describe this compensation.  Step one is prevention.  This 

includes technical safeguards against accidents or malfunctions.  The use 

of buffer zones between the landfill and the community has also become a 

popular additional prevention technique.  The second step is control.  

This mainly accounts for the construction of the landfill and include 

various liner, filtration, and monitoring systems (Atwater, Sept 1989).  

A resident of the Seattle Midway Landfill community, Denny Clark, was 

worried about his children growing up near the site, but now applauds the 

owners for aggressively installing monitoring probes and measures to vent 

the methane gas (Eldred, 1986).  The third step is mitigation.  If an 

accident should occur, it is important that proper corrective measures be 

quickly implemented (Atwater, Sept 1989).  The three mile island accident 

is an example of successful mitigation.  The property value of the 

surrounding community did not decrease, despite the highly publicized 

mishap.  This has generally been attributed to the expectation of 

government assistance, the absence of visible damage, and the very 

visible influx of troops of cleanup workers (Atwater, Dec 1989).  

Finally, step four is compensation in the form of cash or services 

(Atwater, Sept 1989).  An increasing number of landfills are developing 

public parks on inactive landfill sites.  As part of the deal to accept 

the landfill, the Palm Beach Landfill in Florida has created an enormous 

park to meet the growing needs of adult recreation.  It includes twelve 

miles of cycling paths, a thirty-three acre waterway for canoeing and 

fishing, along with horse trails, a model airplane field, and even a golf 

course.  The distinguishing characteristic is the ninety-foot lookout 

mound from which pedestrians can spot local landmarks including the 

neighboring active waste-to-energy facility (Palm Beach..., 1995).

Part 4:  Global Feasibility

Barriers and policies to overcome them

1.  Low electricity prices

        In general, methane recovery is only feasible from large, urban 

landfills.  The exact size, however, depends largely on the electricity 

price.  Unfortunately, landfill energy projects are highly sensitive to 

fluctuating prices.  A small dip in cents per kWh translates into a large 

dip in profits.  By the same token, fortunately, landfills are highly 

sensitive to fluctuating prices.  This implies that a mild government tax 

break or incentive program, such as Section 29, can be used to augment 

the profitability and thus neutralize the detrimental effects of low 

market prices.  The current U.S. tax policy is adequate for encouraging 

landfill recovery projects.  The tax structure has already kept the 

average adjusted charge for electricity from energy recovery projects at 

6"/kWh.  Thus, 75% of landfill methane can theoretically be recovered.  

Any increase in the tax break would be a step into diminishing returns.

2.  Potential liability for financial backers and system operators

        In the United States, under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental 

Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), the owner and operator of a 

landfill may become solely responsible for the costly cleanup if 

hazardous conditions should occur.  This scares away many investors who 

are needed to assemble the high capital cost.  This may be handled in 

three ways.  Governments may fund research for the development of cheaper 

cleanup technologies in order to reduce the amount of the liability.  New 

insurance structures may be looked at to provide better, more affordable 

coverage.  Also, legislative action may be utilized to spread out the 

liability cost among more of the responsible parties.

3.  Siting and Permitting Concerns

        Energy recovery landfills have the best chance of success if they 

are sited close to an urban center experiencing a population boom.  

However, the permitting standards are also stricter around these areas.  

It can be very costly to meet the permitting requirements.  One way this 

may be overcome is to develop more efficient low emission technologies 

such as fuel cells, which chemically convert methane directly into usable 

energy bypassing the reactor, thus making it easier to meet the 

standards.  This can be achieved through governmental funding of both 

public and private research projects.  The opposite approach is to grant 

waivers or provide special permitting for environmentally beneficial 

projects that can prove a high benefit-to-cost relationship.     

4.  Perception of high risk

        Most alternative energy production technologies are viewed as 

unproven and risky.  This high risk perception may be voided by 

publicizing the reliability and profitability of methane recovery 

projects already in existence.  In the case of the United States, an 

outreach program could be developed to provide information on the over 

one hundred successful U.S. projects already in existence today.

5.  Development cost of technology

        The high cost of technology hinders the development of new, more 

efficient technologies.  Again, the government can fund and develop both 

private and public research programs.

6.  Lack of information

        A landfill may be a prime site for methane recovery, yet the 

owner may simply be unaware of the recovery option.  Or, if aware of the 

option, may not have the know-how to implement it.  For instance, 85% of 

the landfills in the U.S. are owned by local governments whose only 

responsibility is to adequately store municipal solid waste.  Since it is 

not their primary concern, they may be unaware of the ability to take the 

process one or two steps further.  An outreach program can be developed 

by the government to provide publicity and technical information on the 

construction and operation of a waste-to-energy landfill (Hogan, 1993).  

This also brings in the issue of public versus private management.  

Smaller plants are particularly sensitive to the performance and 

efficiency of the management.  Many vendors argue that private managers 

are better equipped to handle emergencies.  Public management may become 

too bogged down in bidding contracts which can be slow and political.  

However, advocates of public ownership argue that it is best to keep a 

local landfill under local control.  A publicly owned landfill can also 

theoretically be run at a lower cost since it would be a non-profit 

operation (Carolan, 1987).

By Section of the World

        Waste in developing countries is expected to increase at a much 

faster rate than the industrialized countries.  This trend is attributed 

to projections of higher population growth rather than an increase in per 

capita consumption (Hogan, 1993).  Transition theory may be an incredibly 

powerful tool used to help site energy recovery projects around the 

world.  Through the examination of indicator variables, it can be 

determined which areas are primed for this technology.  General trends 

can be depicted to determine if there is a need for the energy, if enough 

gas can be generated to make it economically feasible, and if the 

physical building blocks exist.  Perhaps the most important contribution 

transition theory can offer to this application, is the ability to time 

when these variables will occur in the proper combinations.  Knowing when 

sites may be ready to accept this technology is extremely valuable when 

creating policy, and determining how to spend funds and when.  A few 

examples of this technique will be applied to several test countries in 

the following section.  Three transitions will be examined.  The first 

plots energy consumption and production to determine if there is an 

energy deficit to be filled, such as the extreme case of the United 

States.  The second transition checks if the country is in the midst of 

an urban boom.  As has been stated, these projects are best situated 

around areas experiencing rapid urban growth and a natural gas demand.  

The third relationship takes another step past the urban boom to 

determine if the infrastructure is in place to allow recovery projects.  

It is not enough that the project creates energy, the energy must also 

have a path to flow to the consumers.  To determine the state of the 

infrastructure for natural gas, natural gas production is plotted.  If 

there is a boom in natural gas production, the country will most likely 

have the means to distribute the energy,  This underlines another asset 

of the transition theory as a tool.  Transitions with indirect 

relationships can be used to express a variable that may otherwise be 

difficult to obtain.

Africa and the Middle East

        Municipal solid waste (MSW) generation is .7 kg per person per 

day (Hogan, 1993).  There is a need for greater technological development 

before recovery systems can be installed.  Energy recovery requires the 

control granted by a sanitary landfill as opposed to the smaller, simpler 

dumping landfills which are more frequently found in this geographical 

area.  More effort also must be diverted into creating markets for the 

end product of an energy recovery system, including the infrastructure 

required to provide it.  At this point, resources should be used to 

improve waste handling and landfill design before methane recovery can be 



        MSW generation is .6 kg per person per day.  Asia is responsible 

for 16% of the global generation of methane from landfills.  Some 

countries are upgrading their collection methods by using compacting 

trucks and covered containers.  This would decrease the amount of 

scavenging and increase the amount of waste placed in landfills.  In 

addition, the increasing population will also increase the amount of 

waste.  However, economic constraints and a history of slow waste 

management development indicate that the use of sanitary landfills will 

not significantly increase in the near future.  Efforts should be made to 

develop recovery systems for the sanitary landfills that do exist and 

will grow in volume.


figure 13 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

Figure 13 shows Indias energy deficit.  Although relatively small, the 

gap is significant and is showing growth.  Now may be an opportune time 

to begin developing technologies to prevent the gap from exploding.


figure 14 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

India does not seem to currently be in a rapid urban transition.  

Therefore, areas of densely packed population, which is ideal for energy 

recovery from landfills, may not be increasing at a fast enough rate to 

make this technology feasible.


figure 15 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

However, India does show an incredible boom in natural gas production, 

along with an exponentially increasing urban population, albeit fairly 

steady compared to the overall population.  Therefore, now may be the 

time to begin planning for widespread recovery.


        MSW generation is .6 kg per person per day.  Europe is 

responsible for 20% of the global generation of methane from landfills.  

Some countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany plan to 

increase recycling and incineration which would decrease the volume 

placed in landfills.  However, the technology is in place to implement 

methane recovery and many of the Western European countries in particular 

have the infrastructure available to distribute the recovered energy.  

Many of these countries such as England are actively researching recovery 

techniques.  Although no Eastern European country currently has a gas 

recovery system, there is tremendous opportunity for widespread 

implementation.  Sanitary landfills or open dumps are the exclusive 

methods used for handling waste in most of these countries (as opposed to 

incineration).  A growing number of these countries, such as Poland, are 

phasing out open dumps in favor of sanitary landfills.  Natural Power, a 

U.S. based company is currently working with Kiev, Ukraine to develop a 

recovery system.  Other such outreach programs to Eastern European 

countries could prove to be successful.


figure 16 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

The former U.S.S.R. has kept its energy transition fairly steady.  it is 

not in a desperate situation right now, at least as a whole (figure 16).


figure 17 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

However, it is starting to experience a slow urbanization which may 

accelerate in the near future (figure 17).


figure 18 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

Although the urbanization is relatively slow, the gas fuel production has 

skyrocketed (figure 18).  Therefore, the former U.S.S.R. has the means, 

but not yet the demand.  It should be recommended at this time that work 

is pursued to create markets for landfill energy and that the state of 

sanitary landfills be improved and updated to meet standards required for 


The Americas

        MSW generation is 1.8 kg per person per day.  The Americas are 

responsible for half of the global generation of methane from landfills.  

Sanitary land filling is the predominant method for waste disposal.  

There is a great number of growing urban areas with the demand and 

infrastructure necessary to distribute the energy.  Municipal solid waste 

generation is also expected to increase making this section of the world 

best primed for widespread implementation of this technology, 

particularly in the North American countries.  South America has fewer 

gas to energy systems, but is showing vested interest and a willing for 

commitment to this technology (Hogan, 1993).


figure 19 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

It has already clearly been shown that the United States desperately 

needs to become energy independent.  There is no urban boom, but there is 

a slight, erratic rise in gas fuel production (figure 20, 21).  


figure 20 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

This is a good example of the limitations of transition theory for this 

application.  The data show a tremendous need, yet the United States is 

experiencing neither an urban boom nor a steady explosion in natural gas 

production.  Yet, the United States is the prime candidate for this 

technology.  In this case, transition theory gave too vague a trend.  

Further exploration reveals that the rise in organic content of the waste 

and the extremely high per capita waste production will compensate for 

the lack of rapid urbanization.  This is a case in which transition 

theory shows a mild propensity , but more research must follow to 

determine the exact extent.


        MSW generation is 1.1 kg per person per day (Hogan, 1993).  There 

are few highly urbanized areas in Australia with landfills large enough 

to make a recovery system profitable.  However, the technology and 

infrastructure are in place for the few landfills which are potential 



figure 21 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

If India is almost primed for an energy recovery system, the former 

U.S.S.R. must wait and prepare, and the United States analysis gives a 

lukewarm result, then Australia is on the other end of the scale.  It is 

actually experiencing increasing exports as its production outruns its 

consumption (figure 21).  There is no urban boom (figure 22).  In fact, 

there is even a slight divergence between total and urban population.


figure 22 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)


figure 23 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

Again, Australia does have the know-how and equipment, there is just very 

little demand (figure 23).

The future of landfills in the U.S. 

        The state of landfills in the Unites States may mirror prospects 

in many of the other highly industrialized countries, and may be an 

indicator of the far future of countries in the later stages of 

industrial development.  As the average landfill size increases, as will 

be the case according to a recent EPA report to congress, energy recovery 

will become more profitable and feasible.  With the Section 29 tax break 

in place for at least another thirteen years, an average rate of 5"/kWh 

is reasonable.  At this rate, about 750 of the current landfills in the 

U.S. can profitably recover methane and produce about 4000 MW of energy.  

To reduce the air pollution, the EPA will soon require all landfills to 

collect and combust the gas produced (Hogan, 1993).   In addition, the 

growth of recycling programs and attitudes change the composition of 

municipal solid waste.  Much of the plastic and metal, which do 

contribute to methane generation, will be removed from the waste stream 

while the organic content, which does contribute to methane generation, 

increases.  This means landfills will become more efficient producers of 

methane (Peterson, 1995).



figure 24 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

In a time where world population is starting to become a concern for many 

areas of the world if not all areas, more must be done to meet the 

exponentially growing needs of this world community (figure 24).  

Landfill gas recovery is a technology that can actually harness urban 

growth and transform it into a positive force.  


figure 25 (Source: World Resource Database, 1995)

As figure 25 indicates, this technology will most likely first impact the 

Americas and Europe.  These two areas have both the highest amount of 

technology and are both major sources of methane emissions, a good 

match.  It is up to these nations to research and refine the system so 

that other sections, such as Asia, may follow suit when the time comes.  

Asia has a high methane emission output, it simply needs the technology 

to make this recovery economically viable.

        The world can no longer depend on the diminishing oil and coal 

reserves for its future energy needs.  Alternative energy sources are 

available and can be made feasible in the near future.  In all 

likelihood, oil and coal will not be replaced by one single new energy 

source that can be globally transported and used in a similar fashion.  

Rather, they will most likely be replaced by alternative local energy 

sources specific to the unique characteristics of each area.  Landfill 

energy will never be a major global source of energy, but will surely be 

a major local source of energy with more and more communities benefiting 

every year.

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143.  February 10, 1994.  page  A23.


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Some successful examples

        Landfills remain a largely untapped natural gas reserve capable 

of producing large amounts of energy.  Although a general global approach 

was taken in this paper, methane gas recovery systems are extremely 

sensitive to the surrounding environmental, economical, and 

socio-political conditions.  Therefore, the benefits are harvested 

locally.  Each particular site will have its own set of nuances and the 

feasibility of each site must be determined individually.  Here are some 

examples of locally successful landfills:

Handling fluctuations in supply and demand - Racine Landfill, Wisconsin

The surrounding community of this eight acre site is highly susceptible 

to seasonal fluctuations in energy demand, yet the rate of waste 

generation is fairly steady.  To compensate, the designers incorporated a 

system to simultaneously combust landfill gas and raw natural gas piped 

in from an outside source.  Therefore, if more energy is needed, more 

natural gas can simply be added.  The system also burns off hazardous 

waste solvents further reducing air pollution.  The design has won the 

Wisconsin Governors Award for Energy Innovation and the National Energy 

Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of Energy (Lafond, 1993). 

The longevity of energy - Burnsville Landfill, Minnesota

The Burnsville Landfill creates 3.2 MW of energy meeting the energy needs 

of the 2000 surrounding community homes.  Although this landfill is 

closed, estimates show that Burnsville can depend on landfill electricity 

for another twenty years (In Minnesota..., 1994).

A growing  resource - Amityville Landfill, Pennsylvania

A recovery system was added to the active Amityville Landfill.  

Originally designed for 1 MW of electricity, it expanded two years later 

to 1.5 MW.  Currently, the landfill produces 2 MW of electricity with 

future plans to add yet another generator (Chestnut, 1991).

Paying for itself - Riverview Landfill, Michigan

Electricity produced at the Riverview Landfill is sold directly to the 

Detroit Edison electric company.  Thus, the landfill operator does not 

need to be concerned with finding a specific customer for the end 

product.  Within two years, the landfill owner recovered the capital cost 

and proceeds are now being added to Riverviews cash flow (Alperovitz, 1994).

A community improves their local economy - Glendale Landfill, California

Says John Cosulich, supervising engineer, Its a win, win situation all 

the way.  The treated recovered gas from the Glendale is currently being 

sold to the city at a 12% discount from what it used to pay for imported 

natural gas.  Not only does the discount improve Glendales cash flow, the 

locally generated energy as opposed to the imported energy improves the 

economy of the town (Lou Chen, 1994).

Enough energy to spare - Puente Hills Landfill, California

This is the biggest methane gas recovery project in the country.  Despite 

the capital cost of 33 million dollars and an annual operating cost of 

3.6 million dollars, this site generates a revenue of 8.7 million dollars 

every year (John, 1995).

Into the future, Not just for homes anymore

Next year, during the 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta has plans to shuttle 

athletes throughout the city in natural gas-powered buses.  EPA 

restrictions will encourage automobiles to have near zero emissions in 

the near future.  Compressed natural gas cars are one of major solutions 

(Peterson, 1995).