From landfills to community based “biogas generators”

Sustainability problem

Waste to landfill, improper waste management and climate change

According to the EPA Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate (as of 2013). On average, 1.51 pounds of the 4.4 pounds per person per day of our individual waste was recycled and composted.

Another study estimates that on average America tosses five pounds of trash per person per day into its landfills, based on actual landfill data as opposed to government estimates. Regardless of the facts and figures, it is safe to assume that the amount of waste going to landfills and resulting methane production (a gas that has 23 times the carbon intensity of carbon dioxide) is an issue of paramount importance.

Sustainability technology

Home or community based biogas generators for cooking and heating

Biogas digesters take household and yard waste and convert it to a useful, methane rich substitute that can be channelled to homes for various applications. Think of this as capturing the methane at landfills and converting it to useful energy. However, why let the waste reach the landfills when it can be converted to energy right at the source?

A well-managed methane digester can produce approximately its own volume of biogas each day. Anywhere from 10 to 60 percent of the solids will convert into biogas during digestion, so expect between 3 and 18 cubic feet of available biogas energy for each pound of dry material.

While the technology is not new, the accompanying governance and management is where innovative ideas can take shape. By creating neighbourhood based “gas plants”, households can all channel their waste to a local plant which generates gas and pipes it back to them for cooking and heating. This cannot completely replace industrial standard supply of natural gas but can certainly reduce the dependence on it, which in turn can have downstream effects of overall reduced demand.

It will also minimize the amount of waste going to landfills and in the long run the need for landfills. The leftover material is a useful fertilizer which can be utilized to nurture local parks or farms.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

  • Municipal authorities and organizations- for construction and maintenance
  • Citizens- responsible for segregating waste with care
  • Governments- to do a cost benefit analysis of this project at a neighbourhood and municipality level and subsequently to create subsidy programs to allow this program to pick up speed


Post on Smog Free Tower

Very unique technology! This is needed in cities like Delhi and Shanghai, though the primarily roadblock i foresee is the availability of space. Several of the most polluted cities are also very densely packed and availability of land is always an issue. Is there a range over which this technology operates?

Perhaps the solution lies in situating them on the outskirts (this depends on the range over which this technology can “vacuum and clean”), or rather to innovate to the point where this acts as a final stage scrubbing technology and cleans right at the source?

By Aksheya Chandar (ac4154)

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