Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Two Companies are Turning Your Trash into Low Carbon Fuel

ca_innov_series_icon_283x204By Tim O’Connor and Chloe Looker

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.

Modern society makes a lot of garbage. The decomposition of organic material from garbage in landfills releases methane gas, a potent global warming pollutant.

At the same time, the modern transportation system is powered mostly by fossil fuels and also releases global warming and toxic air pollution. Today, two companies are turning rotting lemons (garbage) into lemonade (low carbon fuels for cars and trucks), and are showing that AB 32 creates a powerful incentive for new ideas and innovations.

Although the ultimate solution to the problem of waste generation and pollution from landfills must include reduction of waste going into the landfills, the fact of the matter is landfills aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Who: Clean Energy and Waste Management, Inc.

What: Clean Energy Renewable Fuels produces and sells Redeem, a renewable natural gas made from decomposing waste. Waste Management, Inc. is the leading provider of waste management in North America. They have partnered with Linde North America, a gases and engineering company to repurpose the methane from the Altamont Landfill into liquefied natural gas.

Where: Clean Energy Renewable Fuels is a subsidiary of Clean Energy which is headquartered in Newport Beach, CA. Waste Management has a landfill and facility located in Altamont, CA.

Why: Clean Energy Renewable Fuels and Waste Management are capturing landfill methane for use as a low carbon transportation fuel.

Many landfills combust methane from their garbage in on-site flares or engines, or vent it through carbon absorption systems. This release of combusted methane adds to the negative public health and climate impacts of the sites.

Clean Energy and Waste Management Inc. are looking to change traditional management of landfill gas, deploying an innovation that can help reduce pollution from the transportation sector and lead to reduced landfill emissions. Both companies are capturing landfill gas and turning it into an economically valuable commodity that displaces gasoline and diesel fuel from the economy. Also, provided that leaks are prevented when the landfill gas is captured, processed, and distributed to consumers, the work of these two companies can help the climate and help California reach its pollution reductions goals. In addition, because processed landfill burns much cleaner than petroleum based fuels, using it in cars and trucks can result in cleaner air and other public health benefits.

Clean Energy produces a fuel named Redeem, which is available in either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). Redeem is produced at landfills outside California and then pumped into pipelines for use in the state. The company has built and operates three biomethane facilities and estimates they will have ten plants that are owned by third parties and located throughout the U.S. by the year’s end. The low carbon fuel receives carbon credits from the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) when it is used in the state, creating an opportunity for additional value.

landfill methane1

Source: Clean Energy

Waste Management, Inc., in partnership with Linde North America, a gases and engineering company, built a facility in 2009 at the Altamont Landfill in Altamont, CA, which produces liquefied natural gas (LNG) from biomethane. Of the approximately 1,500 natural gas trucks that Waste Management has in its fleet, approximately half use the renewable LNG. Where possible, Waste Management also makes LNG available to the public. In total, according to Waste Management, the Altamont Landfill is responsible for 33,000 tons of CO2 reductions per year, the equivalent of eliminating emissions from nearly 7,000 passenger vehicles.

According to company representatives, one of the biggest reasons for their massive investments is California’s Global Warming Law, AB 32. According to Harrison Clay, President of Clean Energy Renewable Fuels, “Our company has seen significant sales in California because of programs like AB 32 and the LCFS – policies like these that put a price on carbon make Clean Energy’s Redeem a winner.”

Waste Management tells a similar story – as Chuck White, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Waste Management states, their fuel generates credits for sale in the LCFS market and their customers – residential, commercial, and government agencies alike – appreciate that the trucks that collect their waste are emitting significantly fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fleets.

Source: Waste Management

Source: Waste Management

Other stakeholders are taking note of the good work that Waste Management and Clean Energy are doing. According to Julia Levin, Executive Director of the Bioenergy Association of California, “The work by Clean Energy and Waste Management on biomethane is a triple win for California. They are demonstrating that we can produce clean-burning natural gas fuel that significantly cuts greenhouse gas emissions, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and cleans up our air, while simultaneously closing the loop on waste.”

In addition to reducing pollution through new technology, Waste Management and Clean Energy are showing leadership in other areas. Along with EDF, both companies are participating in a study led by West Virginia University to measure methane leakage from natural gas vehicles and fueling stations, the results of which are expected to be submitted for publication this summer. For more information on the study, please click here.

Please note that EDF has a standing corporate donation policy and we accept no funding from companies or organizations featured in this series. Furthermore, the EDF California Innovators Series is in no way an official endorsement of the people or organizations featured, or their business models and practices.

Read more from EDF’s Innovators Series here

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