FEMP's BAMF Program Expands Landfill Gas-to-Energy Industry into the Federal Sector

April 30, 2003

For decades, the private sector has been capturing methane released from landfills and making beneficial use of landfill gas (LFG) as an inexpensive fuel for heat and power applications. FEMP's new Biomass and Alternative Methane Fuels Super Energy Savings Performance Contracts (BAMF Super ESPCs) enable Federal agencies to participate in LFG-to-energy projects even when the landfill is not on Federal property.

The Potential of the Resource

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Landfill Methane Outreach Program estimates that there are more than 300 landfills in the United States where the methane is captured and put to beneficial use. More importantly, there are at least 600, and perhaps up to 1,700, additional landfills that may be good candidates for economical LFG-to-energy projects.

A resource assessment, using the higher estimate, developed for FEMP by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, identified more than 1,200 large (over 100,000 square feet) Federal facilities that are within 15 miles of at least one "candidate" landfill (i.e., a landfill without an active landfill gas project). Nearly 500 of these Federal facilities are within 5 miles of a candidate landfill, well within the limits to keep costs for piping LFG low enough to make its use economical. Although most projects limit piping to less than 10 miles, that distance can be extended to 20 miles, depending on the output at the landfill and the energy load at the end use.

Illustration of how landfill gas is delivered via a pipeline to a compressor. Then it is piped to a pretreatment area, where it eventually goes to an energy end use point such as an engine, boiler, generator, or combined heat and power system.

More than 1,000 megawatts of electricity is now produced from LFG in the United States, and FEMP has identified nearly 500 Federal facilities within 5 miles of landfills that are good candidates for economical LFG-to-energy projects.

Landfills begin producing methane as soon as 6 months after they begin operations, and many of the landfills identified in the FEMP and EPA studies will be capable of producing LFG for more than 20 years after site closure. A rule of thumb for estimating gas volume is that 1 million tons of municipal solid waste typically yields about 300 standard-cubic-feet per minute of collectible landfill gas, enough to deliver approximately 800 kilowatts of electricity.

Applications

More than 1,000 megawatts of electricity are produced from over 200 LFG-to-energy projects now in operation. Additionally, more than 100 projects are delivering useful thermal energy, either directly, or as a by-product of electricity generation. A wide range of systems including internal combustion engines, diesel generators, microturbines, and other technologies can use LFG to produce electricity, and most boilers are easily reconfigured to burn LFG to produce hot water or steam.

The caloric value of LFG is about 500 Btu per cubic foot, or roughly one-half of natural gas. At some locations the LFG is conditioned to increase its Btu content to bring it up to pipeline quality.

See the article in this issue describing NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's new LFG project for a description of the kind of LFG project that can be implemented using this technology. The NASA Goddard project was financed under a utility contract, the technology and the potential cost effectiveness of this LFG energy recovery project is profiled on page 12.

Benefits of LFG and the BAMF Super ESPC

Under the BAMF Super ESPC, agencies can partner with prequalified, competitively selected energy service companies (ESCOs) and use an expedited contracting process to implement projects quickly, avoiding the uncertainty and delay of depending on appropriated funding. The ESCO arranges financing for project development, equipment, and installation, and the debt is paid back over time from the guaranteed cost savings generated by the project. FEMP's experienced project facilitators can guide the agency through the entire process, providing expert consultation and assistance with technical, contractual, and financial aspects of the project. For more information about ESPCs, see FEMP's web site.

In a typical BAMF LFG project, the ESCO builds a pipeline from the landfill to the Federal facility and then installs or reconfigures the end-use-equipment to utilize the resource. LFG-to-energy projects can bring immediate and long-term benefits to Federal facilities:

  • Energy cost savings.
  • Energy security.
    • When LFG is piped directly to its end use, it provides security from interruptions in the gas and electric grids.
    • For facilities that require back-up or standby electricity generation, LFG systems provide the lowest cost while still accommodating a steady base load.
  • Utility cost stabilization — Because the LFG resource is obligated under a long-term contract, LFG systems provide an excellent hedge against fluctuations in fuel and electricity prices.
  • Environmental benefits — Significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (The methane from landfills is 21 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.)
  • Progress toward Federal goals for the use of renewable energy.

Is there a LFG-to-energy opportunity in your backyard? For more information about implementing an LFG-to-energy project using the BAMF Super ESPC, please contact your FEMP Regional Office Representative (see the list of DOE Regional Offices on the contacts page of the FEMP Focus). For additional information, please contact Christopher Abbuehl, National Program Representative for the BAMF Super ESPC, at 215-656-6995 or christopher.abbuehl@ee.doe.gov; Steve Cooke, BAMF Technical Lead, at 304-285-5437 or steve.cooke@netl.doe.gov; or Danette Delmastro, FEMP BAMF Team Lead, at 202-586-7632 or danette.delmastro@ee.doe.gov. Also see EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program web site at www.epa.gov/lmop.