Landfills turn trash into energy in Wake County

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Long pipes send the gas down to the energy center to be converted to electricity (WTVD)

Deep in the piles of trash at our area landfills lies a potent greenhouse gas: Methane.

Its global warming potential is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide alone. But if used in the right way, methane can also be converted into renewable energy.

That's exactly what John Roberson, head of Wake County Waste Services, is doing in Apex.

"At the landfill currently, we are generating 4 and a half megawatts of power and that's 24/7," Roberson said.

As trash deteriorates underground, methane is released. Wells are drilled down into the landfills to capture the gas. It's then sent through long pipes down to the energy center where it's converted into electricity.

"The landfill has been here since 2008 and that volume is projected to grow upwards of 10 to 12 megawatts over the next 8 to 12 years," Roberson explained. "At that matter of time, that correlates to at least 12,000 homes being powered. That's during peak heating or cooling season."

In a few years, it could be enough to power a whole town.

"We liken it to during the springtime, when people are just turning on their lights and don't have their A.C. on, we could probably power the town of Holly Springs," Roberson said.

Once the gas is collected, it is sold to Duke Energy, making the county money.

The county then uses that income to make improvements to facilities like the convenience centers, the multi-material areas, and household hazardous waste collection sites.

The South Wake facility is one of only 34 in the state, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA estimates that as many as 440 additional landfills could cost-effectively turn methane into an energy resource, producing enough electricity to power nearly 512,000 homes across the nation.

Converting landfill gas to energy offsets the need for non-renewable resources such as coal and oil, therefore reducing emissions of air pollutants that contribute to local smog. In addition, it helps hold off global climate change, by controlling the amount of methane released in the air.

This process is a win for all, powering our homes and protecting our planet.

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