COLUMBUS, Ind. —
Cummins Inc. employees and local officials are studying whether they can capture gas produced by the Bartholomew County Landfill and use it to generate electricity. That energy could be used to power anything from a greenhouse to an engine test cell.
Opened in 1999, the county landfill, on County Road 450S, just west of State Road 11, contains about 650,000 tons of waste — but it is designed to hold about 10 million tons over the next 50 or more years.
Like all landfills, the county landfill produces gas — about 50 percent carbon dioxide and 50 percent methane — from decomposition of organic waste such as plants, paper and food. Within the next 12 to 15 years, the landfill will produce so much gas that government regulations will require the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District to capture or burn off the gas, said Jim Murray, the district’s director.
But capturing or burning the gas will cost money, Murray said, because it will mean an investment in infrastructure.
By developing a commercial use, the district hopes to get rid of the gas without incurring any costs — and possibly netting a small profit. At the same time, the gas could benefit the local community if it were used to generate electricity.
The idea for the landfill gas project generated significant interest among Cummins employees, who had formed a partnership with the solid waste district.
Alberth Franco, a high horsepower natural gas product validation engineer at Cummins, said he got involved in the project in part because he has always liked recycling programs. The Miami native used to participate in the cleanup of beaches, and during an internship he consulted and conducted an energy study at a wastewater treatment plant.
Franco said the Cummins team has completed its background investigation on the landfill project and is now collecting input from the community to design concepts about how the gas could be used.
He said the landfill is close to industry in Woodside Industrial Park, and the gas could be pipelined there to be used for heating or welding or engine testing, for example.
A similar effort in Indianapolis has saved power systems company Rolls-Royce more than $2 million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The mile-long, 12-inch diameter pipeline that delivers the gas from the South Side Landfill to the company was built in 1999. The gas is used primarily to heat Rolls-Royce’s two large manufacturing plants, which combined cover nearly 3 million square feet, said Rolls Royce spokesman Joel Reuter.
“We take as much as they can give us, especially in the winter,” Reuter told The Republic.
The company’s boiler system can be powered by four different fuels, Reuter said, and the landfill gas is by far the least expensive.
Depending on weather, the boilers at times can be run exclusively on landfill gas, Reuter said.
Other businesses, including a greenhouse on the landfill site, also receive some of the gas.
Reuter said for these types of projects to make economic sense, users of the gas should be near the source because of cost factors, such as the pipeline expense.
Franco said that the Cummins team hopes to have design concepts completed this summer.
Murray said that Duke Energy has expressed interest in participating in the local project.
The district has built into its budget the cost related to capturing the gas, but Murray said he believes that in a worst-case scenario, the project will be revenue neutral.
The team and the district also are considering using the gas that is generated by the Petersville Landfill, the county’s old landfill in eastern Columbus. Because of its size, that landfill generates only a small amount of gas, which is being burned off. Franco said the gas could provide electricity for a nearby farm, for example.