California is now home to the world’s largest plant converting landfill gas into usable natural gas

Major landfill operator Waste Management, in partnership with the Linde Group, just opened its $13.5 million facility outside of Livermore, Calif., with plans to produce 4 million gallons of fuel a year — fuel that promises to generate less greenhouse gas than petroleum.

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This is a huge boon for the state, which is looking to slash its carbon emissions by 25 percent before 2010 — as mandated by the governor’s executive order — and promote biomass for transportation applications under California’s Bioenergy Action Plan. It’s also proof that landfill gas-to-natural gas is a viable source of energy on a large scale. Organic waste naturally releases gas into the atmosphere as it decomposes, and about half of it is methane, one of the more damaging greenhouse gases. The process used by the plant will rechannel the methane to make it suitable for transportation fuel and even electricity generation.

While German gas conglomerate Linde built and will operate the plant, Waste Management — which owns 277 landfills across the country — will supply the raw materials. The two companies first turned the facility on in September, and it has already generated 200,000 gallons of gas. At full speed, it can churn out a maximum of 13,000 gallons a day — enough to gas up 485 of Waste Management’s garbage trucks, the company says.

California certainly encouraged the companies to set down roots in the state, ponying up $15.5 million scraped together from the Integrated Waste Management Board, the Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. These agencies say the facility is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by as many as 30,000 tons a year.

As a company, it has also vowed to increase its truck fleet’s fuel efficiency by 15 percent and cut emissions by 15 percent by 2020.The Livermore facility is just one of a much broader landfill-to-natural gas strategy for Waste Management. The company, based in Houston, wants to build 60 of its kind by 2012. All told, it wants to generate 700 megawatts from 170 natural gas projects by 2014. Considering that 520 landfills have been tapped as possible sites by the Environmental Protection Agency, this seems like a reasonable enough goal.

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