By Allie Goldstein, EcoSystem Marketplace.
It’s a hot day in May, and air conditioners throughout Washington, D.C. are already pumping. Across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, a group of WGL Energy employees stands next to a giant pile of trash. Mike Gailliot, the owner of the pile, opens a chain-link fence and leads the group into a maze of pipes and blowers, all pumping methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into a six-inch gas flare that is invisible save for the willowy shadow it casts on the sidewalk. This flare is the result of the methane being burned off into carbon dioxide, reducing its impact on the atmosphere by 95%.
Galliot points out a concealed box that contains a continuous methane analyzer that shoots a laser through the gas to determine its contents. If the methane concentration falls too low to sustain a flame, the propane lighter automatically shuts off, and Gailliot and his engineers receive a text – sometimes in the middle of the night – prompting them to check on the system.
“There is definitely a science to it,” he says. “And an art, I suppose.”