A herd of oxen
grazes peacefully on a nearby meadow, treading between the cow pies
that attest to active digestion. If only we could capture the methane
gas rising from their waste, pipe it along the road and use it to
heat or light our house, I thought.
My husband looked at
me oddly when I recently voiced the idea, although Vermonters use
that energy and term it “cow power”.
By chance, an e-mail
soon arrived from Bob Walker of Thetford Center. A regional pioneer
in conservation who founded and directs the Sustainable Energy
Resource Group (SERG), he was aware of my recent columns about the
Lebanon Solid Waste Facility. And he was ready, as always, to
contribute useful information.
“Methane is the
primary component of landfill gas and it is one of the primary
greenhouse gases of concern, 22 times worse … than carbon dioxide,”
he wrote (not specifically mentioning cow pies, but landfills surely
include animal droppings). Interested in reducing the adverse
environmental impacts of landfill gas and in bolstering the local
economy through the circulation of benign “energy dollars,” SERG
undertook a study of regional alternatives.
By the spring of
2006, SERG presented to the Lebanon City Council a report examining
three options: Burning the gas to prevent its escape into the
atmosphere (termed “flaming”); Piping the gas to a nearby
business to use as fuel; Generating electricity in the landfill site.
Readers wishing more technical detail may e-mail to
for the study report.
commented, “In terms of technical ‘how to collect, clean and
convert to energy’ questions, Marc may be more familiar.” Indeed,
Marc Morgan, manager of the facility (who had come aboard after the
SERG study was done) was extremely clear. On e-mail, he described the
process in these terms:
• Collection pipes
called gas wells are placed in the landfill.
• Those wells are
connected to the pipes that transport the gas to a generator. Vacuums
and fans are used to pull more gas out of the wells.
• At the
generator, gas is used to produce electricity.
• The resulting
electricity could be used on site and/or sent to the (regional) grid.
• If the gas is
sent to an “end user” (such as Pike Industries or Carroll
Concrete, which expressed interest to Walker in 2007), the gas would
be piped to them. That gas would most likely be used for heating
Morgan, who has been
working closely with facility engineers and Lebanon city management,
notes that other possibilities are being considered too. Production
of a compressed gas product to use in home heating or in vehicles is
one; another is participating in the realm of carbon offsets. In
that process, which I learned about while researching the topic of
alpine skiing and climate change, facilities such as ski areas
attempt to compensate for their production of greenhouses gases in
snowmaking and operating lifts by investing in companies that are
producing “green energy” (such as cow power!)
After reading my May
14 column about the Lebanon Solid Waste Facility (which Walker terms
the landfill), a curious reader had e-mailed: “On gas to energy …
this is so promising and we hope that it is beyond the talking stage.
Did they say when this would be happening and where the methane would
with reassurance, also noting the complexity of the undertaking.
“We are moving
forward with this project. It just takes time to do sampling,
testing, design and construction. Technology has changed a lot too. I
want to be sure that the city is able to take advantage of new ideas
to best manage this material,” he wrote.
“We have sent out
a Request for Qualifications to landfill gas companies” (to
determine which ones fit the needs of the city), wrote Morgan. “This
is done before a proposal is developed for a project … It is our
hope to have a Landfill gas company on board by the end of 2009 and a
project designed in 2010, with construction in 2011.”
And maybe by then
our neighborly oxen will help to warm and heat our house – or allow
us to enjoy the fantasy.
# # #
McCollum can be reached at
This column was published in the Spectator on 6/11/09