Trash to Gas: Maybe Landfills Can Benefit the Planet!

Written by Julia Hoffman, ESLLC 2016-2017

Many people do not really stop to think about where the trash they produce everyday ends up. For the people that do think about their trash and its destination, most people are very upset about how quickly our landfills are stacking up and how much is wasted everyday by mankind. While we all should make a better effort to waste less and contribute less to landfills, there may just be a slight silver lining to the epidemic that is waste. As the population grows and the demand for energy increases, we are branching out to new sources of energy to meet our needs. Solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear are the most prominent forms of renewable energies utilized by society today. However, what if there was a hidden source buried deep beneath the piles of trash?

Biomass energy comes from the breakdown of biological substances. Through the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll in plants captures the sun’s energy by converting carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground into carbohydrates—complex compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. When these carbohydrates are burned, they turn back into carbon dioxide and water and release the energy they captured from the sun.

There are a few different ways to break down these biological substances. When biomass is thrown away (which is way more often than it is composted) they undergo biochemical conversion. Biochemical conversion makes use of the enzymes of bacteria and other microorganisms to break down biomass into gaseous or liquid fuels (such as methane).

In some plants, when methane gas escapes the rotting trash, it rises to the top of the landfill and can be collected in pipes. The methane can then be burned for energy and it is very efficient. This process is not only great because it keeps methane out of the atmosphere but it also provides us with more energy in a somewhat “renewable” way. Since the trash is just going to be there anyways, might as well utilize this resource!

Maybe we can live in a world were there is at least one positive side to the ever growing mountain that is the trash we waste every single day!

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