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Where being gassy can come in handy

As part of its push to reduce greenhouse gases, the federal government wants municipalities to reduce methane emissions from their landfill sites.

While the Region of Waterloo has measures in place to capture and use methane from its sites, it welcomed the possibility of incentives to do more.

Plans to divert more organic waste from landfills also stand to benefit producers of biogas such as Elmira’s Bio-En Power Inc.

Ottawa is currently soliciting feedback for both its Landfill Methane Recovery and Destruction protocol and a discussion paper entitled Reducing methane emissions from Canada’s municipal solid waste landfills.

The impetus is reducing methane volumes escaping from municipal landfill sites, which the federal government says are responsible for almost a quarter of Canada’s methane emissions. Reductions will help Ottawa achieve its 2030 targets to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels and to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent as part of its commitment to the Global Methane Pledge.

“Canada is taking action to reduce methane pollution from landfills. By capturing methane at its source, we will significantly reduce methane levels by 2030. This is an essential part of reaching our emission reduction targets and the Global Methane pledge to fight climate change and keep our air clean,” said Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in a statement.

In Waterloo Region, the municipality collects methane from the current landfill site on Erb Street in Waterloo and at a closed site in Cambridge that continues to produce gas.

New incentives such as carbon offsets or other revenues are something the region will look at, said Jon Arsenault, director of waste management services.

“We’re already highly regulated with respect to landfill methane recovery,” he explained. “Our active landfill in Waterloo where we continue to operate a landfill, we have methane recovery … and we expand it as the landfill expands as best we can to try and stay on top of that and maximize its efficiencies.”

Methane from the site is used to power generators that in turn provide electricity. Upgrades are made to the recovery systems, but in a cost-effective manner, he added.

“It may be nice to reduce some of the methane escaping, but at what cost? What’s a reasonable cost? And is there something? We’re always exploring ways to do that,” said Arsenault. “We have landfill gas collection utilization systems that we have been in place since the ’90s that we continue to operate and continue to build on and make as efficient as possible as we move forward. At Waterloo, which is an active landfill site, it’s expanded as we go there. Cambridge, not so much – it’s more of a maintenance of an existing system, but the utilization of that landfill gas, I call it sort of closed loop direct use to a neighbouring steel mill.”

The Cambridge site will continue to make use of the methane for as long as the gases form. In Waterloo, efforts to reduce the organic waste stream will in turn decrease the creation of methane at the site.

The region’s green bin program sees organic waste sent to a Guelph facility for composting. Other municipalities send such waste to biogas plants such as the Woolwich Bio-En facility in Elmira, where the organic matter is turned to methane burned to generate electricity.

Company president Chuck Martin sees a growing interest in the anaerobic digester process that turns waste into power, both electricity and, increasingly, what’s known as renewable natural gas (RNG).

“There are some incentives for RNG,  or call it clean energy. That includes landfill gas and, and a few other things,” he said, noting the process is a little easier for biogas plants than for municipal landfill sites.

“The landfill is full of stuff, so there’s more stuff in the gas – it’s a little harder to make it clean. They’ve been running some engines to make electricity – it’s more or less what we do is make methane and use it to make electricity,” said Martin.

“There’s a bit of a move to rather than making electricity to make renewable natural gas, because when you make electricity, you get like a 45 per cent energy yield and the rest is heat. So unless you’re using the heat – we use our own heat to make our own electricity, and it’s not bad – it’s not the most efficient conversion in the world. Whereas if you just make RNG and use it as gas, you’re getting 96 per cent energy efficiency, like in a home furnace. So then the carbon benefit is greater.”

Martin says he sees a growing interest in the possibility of creating a stream of renewable gas that can be fed into the existing grid the way the Bio-En plant currently feeds electricity into the electrical grid.

As with Arsenault, he sees the federal incentives as a way to speed up improvements in how we handle organic waste and put it to use. Diverting organic waste from landfills will call for expanded uses of the material outside of the waste-management sites.

“As they get organics out of landfills, landfill projects will produce less gas, obviously. There are some targets for 2025… to get to 75 per cent organics diversion, I believe,  so they’re working on different ways of accomplishing that. Most of them have focused on anaerobic digestion, biogas plants; some have gone with composting. The smart ones will do a combination of the two.”

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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