Gas sales become easier for landfill operators

Republic Services Landfill at 7001 S. Bryant Ave. in Oklahoma City was the first landfill in the state to capture its methane gas for commercial use. (Photo by Brent Fuchs)

By Sara Terry-Cobo, The Journal Record.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Business opportunities are opening up to Oklahoma landfill owners, thanks to changes in federal laws. National clean air incentives are improving the economics for projects that turn waste into fuel. That could turn into cheaper compressed natural gas for municipal fleet owners.

Adriane Jaynes said she’s trying to connect those city fleet managers to the landfill operators. She coordinates the Tulsa Clean Cities program, a local chapter of a national coalition to cut air pollution in government fleets. Landfill gas conversion projects will help her members, many of whom already have compressed natural gas, or CNG-fueled vehicles as part of their city fleets.

Those landfill-gas-to-CNG projects are particularly attractive to Clean Cities members who have their own natural gas fueling stations on municipal property, she said.

Decomposing garbage in landfills creates methane, but the smog-forming gas can’t just be released into the air, said Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s Fenton Rood. Landfill operators can burn that gas, or capture it and use it. The methane rotting garbage produces can be processed to have the same properties as the natural gas that resides in underground rock formations.

David Cox travels the country explaining those landfill-to-CNG opportunities to fleet owners. The general counsel for a nonprofit trade association, the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, said the processing equipment has been around for years. But a 2014 change in the national Clean Air Act allowed landfill gas to qualify for renewable fuel incentives. The change helps those projects become economical and competitive against geologic natural gas, he said.

An Ardmore landfill operator is examining several possible purchasers for a renewable natural gas project, said Rood, the DEQ’s land protection division assistant director. One buyer would use the gas for a CNG fleet, one would process the gas to put it into a pipeline, he said.

The first landfill in Oklahoma to capture and reuse its methane gas was a Republic Services-owned facility near the Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads, near Interstate 240. The buyer was General Motors. But that changed when the auto plant closed, Rood said.

“They are still selling some to a plastics manufacturer, but in the absence of (GM’s) demand, they have to flare some,” he said.

Cox said he expects more landfill-gas-to-CNG projects will emerge soon, in part because of the demand for CNG in vehicles.