NASA Relies on Energy from Landfill Gas to Explore
NASA is using energy from landfill gas to heat 31 buildings at its Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists and engineers dedicated to learning and sharing their knowledge of the Earth, sun, the solar system, and universe. Goddard employees build and operate NASA science research satellites – such as the famous Hubble Space Telescope – manage tracking and orbital operations, and design and construct instruments flown on other NASA and international space missions.
The space agency harnesses methane gas from a nearby landfill and uses it to fire boilers that produce steam at the Goddard Center. Landfill gas provides all of the center's heating needs 95 percent of the time, with natural gas serving as the back up.
"The environmental benefits are huge," said Barry Green, Goddard Energy Manager. "We are reducing emissions equivalent to taking 35,000 cars off the road per year or planting 47,000 acres of trees."
NASA will save taxpayers more than $3.5 million over the next decade in fuel costs. Goddard was the first federal facility to heat its buildings with landfill gas.
This energy is coming from the Sandy Hill Landfill operated by Waste Management (WM), Inc., in Prince George's County, Maryland. This landfill has collected about 5.2 million tons of trash and is expected to generate landfill gas for at least 30 years. NASA plans to use the gas for at least 10 years. "We're hoping to extend that use to 20 years," Green says.
Before Goddard used Sandy Hill's landfill gas, all of it was burned off in a flare. A few years ago, Dallas-based Toro Energy, approached NASA offering landfill gas as a way to reduce fuel costs while helping to protect the environment. At no cost to the government, the company built a purification plant and a five-mile pipeline from the Prince George's County Sandy Hill Landfill to Goddard. Torro also modified two boilers at Goddard.
Methane is drawn out of the landfill by wells that look like long perforated pipes. Methane is a natural product of trash. WM placed more than 80 wells approximately 250 feet apart all over the Sandy Hill Landfill. The wells are attached to a central vacuum system that sucks out the methane and delivers it to the purification plant.
There are four major steps to purifying the landfill gas. (Water free gas is much easier to transport through a five-mile pipeline and easier to burn. Therefore, water removal is a major part of the landfill gas purification process.)
1. Filters in the landfill gas purification plant sift out tiny particles and water.
2. A gas compressor squeezes out more water.
3. The gas is then chilled drawing out even more water.
4. The plant reheats the gas and transports it to Goddard.
Read about more companies using energy from landfills.