Trash to cash


Allied Waste Services is looking to sell the methane produced by the four million tons of decomposing trash in its Missoula landfill, but the economy is stifling its efforts.

“We’ve got lots of projects or proposals or ideas, but I wouldn’t say anything’s final, or even close to being final, especially with the economy the way it is now,” says Max Bauer, Allied Waste’s general manager in Montana. “Some of these proposals that looked good a few months ago don’t look so good anymore.”

The methane—the primary component in natural gas—is currently piped up and flared off. There’s enough now, Bauer says, for it to be commercially viable. In the current economy, however, finding an appropriate buyer, and determining how to transfer the gas have delayed potential deals.

The Roseburg Forest Products particleboard plant across the highway from the landfill was allegedly set to buy the gas to heat its boilers, according to Laura Howe of the University of Montana’s facilities services. UM also considered buying the gas, Howe says, but the costs of piping it through town and across the Clark Fork River proved prohibitive.

“Roseburg or any of the commercial users that would be within three or four miles of the landfill would be good potential candidates,” Bauer says. “Our problem is that most of the big potential users are in the wood products industries, and right now that’s a shaky deal.”

Bauer doesn’t expect an agreement to be announced for another two months or more.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, four million tons of waste can produce about 3.2 megawatts of electricity or about 1.7 million cubic feet of gas per day.

This year methane from the Flathead County Landfill near Kalispell will begin generating enough electricity to power 900 homes. The Billings Regional Landfill recently teamed up with Montana-Dakota Utilities to tap its gas, potentially earning the city $20 million over 40 years.


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