From Garbage to Gas

Longitudes

Anne Kim

What was once the I-95 landfill near Lorton, Virginia, is now dozens of acres of rolling green fields dotted by more than 200 metal pipes emerging from the grass.

The pipes – wellheads for natural gas – are collecting methane generated by more than 10 million tons of decomposing garbage dumped by Washington, D.C.-area residents over the last 30 years.

A vacuum pump draws the gas from underground, through the wellheads, and connects it to roughly 14 miles of pipeline running throughout the landfill. Under each wellhead, there’s a three-foot bore hole that extends 110 feet down into the waste mass.

Although it closed in 1995, officials expect the landfill to emit gas for at least the next decade.

Finding gold in landfills

On its most productive days, the landfill generates 2,000 cubic feet of gas per minute – enough to create 4.9 megawatts of electricity, explained Fairfax…

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