Rerouting One-Way Waste

What does a decades-closed landfill have in common with local foods and fresh fish, algae and biodiesel? They’re all closely linked together in a new energy-creation and economic cycle: one that offsets harmful greenhouse gases while bettering the environment and benefiting the community.

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What does a decades-closed landfill have in common with local foods and fresh fish, algae and biodiesel? They’re all closely linked together in a new energy-creation and economic cycle: one that offsets harmful greenhouse gases while bettering the environment and benefiting the community. Brattleboro, VT, and Carbon Harvest Energy are working to prove that renewable energy and sustainable agriculture are good not only for the earth, but also for the bottom line.

Carbon Harvest Energy, a two-year-old company based in Burlington, created the Brattleboro Renewable Energy and Sustainable Agriculture Project. The project is designed to revive an offline landfill, which decades ago generated methane gas for energy. In addition, it is hoped that the project will become the first link in a chain that uses and reuses power — and virtually every waste product generated — for good. When complete, it will be the first integrated, renewable energy-to-agriculture, algae feed and biodiesel project in the country: Burning the methane for power will offset roughly the equivalent of 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, and a portion of leftover CO2 will be harvested for algae production.

Learn more about the project at willraap.org

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The project also integrated the thoughts of open-minded leaders from the Windham Solid Waste Management District, Central Vermont Public Service (the area electrical utility), the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School, the Brattleboro Select Board, and even the Vermont Foodbank. Together, they cooperated and brainstormed to find ways to have the closed landfill benefit as many systems, and people, as possible.

At this stage, the landfill’s methane gas will run the generator at the power plant, creating enough electricity to power 300 homes (while sequestering harmful greenhouse gasses). CVPS will buy that power at a slightly higher-than-usual, State-authorized feed-in tariff rate rate.

The “waste” heat produced through that process actually won’t be wasted at all: CHE will construct a combined heat and power (CHP) generation plant that will supply low-cost energy and heat to a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse and aquaculture operation. Year-round, the greenhouse and aquaculture will produce fresh, healthy, locally produced vegetables and fish for sale to customers, with a portion provided to the Vermont Foodbank.

The fish will provide high-nutrient-content, organic waste to help grow the vegetables, and the 30,000 gallons of water they live in will be reused to grow beneficial algae for a research and development effort at UVM. Ultimately, that algae will become animal feed and an ingredient in biofuel.

This innovative project demonstrates the way that creative, open-minded leaders can take a system that seems to bet set in stone—store solid waste, release harmful greenhouse gases—and turn it on its ear, integrating science, technology, nature and community into a sustainable cycle that benefits society on so many levels. Most important, by generating electricity from the waste—and producing food and fuel—while preventing greenhouse gases from contributing to global warming, it shows we can redesign industrial systems to achieve both economic and ecological benefits.

Could Vermont’s energy future be profitable, as well as “No fossil fuels required!”? CHE is demonstrating that it can.

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You can see diagrams of how the project works, as well as photographs at various stages of construction, at Carbon Harvest Energy’s web site.

To read local Vermont coverage of the generator start-up event, visit these sites: the Brattleboro Reformer
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2 Responses to Rerouting One-Way Waste

  1. The advantages of this kind of project are illusory. Landfilling generates the most methane (up to 100 times worse than CO2 in the short term) while the filling is going on. That's well before a collection system can be put into place in an active fill, and before any gas can be harvested. Meanwhile, landfilling to create energy makes resources unrecoverable that could have been used to reindustrialize our country. We could be making our own products again with our own resources instead of borrowing from the Chinese to buy the things they make with the jobs that we gave them. Far from being a benefit, this project is one further step toward impoverishing our country and turning ourselves into a Third World nation. Zero Waste and total materials recovery have the potential to prevent more greenhouse gases than taking all, yes all, the cars off the roads. And it would generate sustainable jobs and prevent landfilling's pollution at the same time. This landfill idea, called a “bioreactor,” is a new way for wasting companies to ensure long-term collection monopolies with profit margins up to 35%. Meanwhile we continue to borrow from other countries to support our consumerism. There's a much better direction. But to take it, we can't promise our supply of discarded resources to the wasting companies.
    Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, California, past president of the Northern California Recycling Association. marylouvan@urbanore.com

  2. The Hobbit says:

    Every little bit helps. Our University of N.H. is currently using power from the methane gas harvested from a local landfill under the supervision of Waste Management. Every one chuckled when this was first talked about but, now that it's a reality no one is laughing

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