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California Company Eliminates Need for Fracking with Sustainable Biogas from Landfills

Christina Sarich
NationofChange / News Report
Published: Thursday 17 October 2013
Methane removed form the environment arguably improves Greenhouse gases, but more importantly, it reduces our addiction to petroleum based fuels.
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Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking is a way of procuring gas and oil from underground that is both harmful to the planet, and toxic to human health. It irradiates rivers and can cause unexpected earthquakes, displacing people and causing millions in infrastructure damage. There is another sustainable way to utilize the waste of human consumption, though, and a California company has unleashed a biofuel – one that can even run your car – which is sourced from the methane that emanates from landfills. The energy has been named ‘Redeem’ and it burns 90 percent cleaner than diesel.

Clean Energy Fuels is the first company to ever release a commercial form of transportation fuel that is made entirely from human waste. Thousands of taxis, shuttles, rental cars and buses are already using the clean form of energy throughout the state. It is 100% renewable – at least while we have landfills scattered throughout North America. The US currently has over 3000 active landfills, which means there is ample energy to be sourced.

President and CEO of Clean Energy, Andrew J. Littlefair, says, “Our goal is to produce and distribute 15 million gallons of Redeem in our first year which can make significant progress towards achieving California’s climate change goals and prove that this is a viable, cleaner and abundant alternative fuel source for our future.”

Methane removed form the environment arguably improves Greenhouse gases, but more importantly, it reduces our addiction to petroleum based fuels which are very harmful to all forms of life (distillates from petroleum run off kill everything from ocean life to forests). Methane is the second most prevalent source of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions, and landfill sites are the third-largest source of those emissions; however, landfills sites cause their own environmental problems since most of the liners are only 1/10 of an inch thick, which means hazardous materials can leach into the soil, damaging it for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

While this form of ‘sustainable’ energy becoming one of the substitutes for our current petroleum based energy habit is commendable, we still need to heed warnings from environmentalists who state that landfills are detrimental to the planet, and human health. Even the US EPA tells us:

First, even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration, and recent improvements in MSWLF containment technologies suggest that releases may be delayed by many decades at some landfills. For this reason, the Agency is concerned that while corrective action may have already been triggered at many facilities, 30 years may be insufficient to detect releases at other landfills." Source: US EPA Federal Register, Aug 30, 1988, Vol.53, No.168.

Another consideration is the cost of turning this form of energy into a usable fuel. Considering the cost of cleaning up just one oil spill can be billions, like the recent 20,600 barrels of oil which spewed from the Tesoro Logistics Pipeline, the high cost of converting methane gas from landfills is still negligible in comparison. Currently, California incentives allow Clean Energy Fuels to sell Redeem for about the same price as natural gas, and much cheaper than diesel though it runs so much cleaner. The environmental credentials associated with using Redeem are coveted by large fleet owners who want to be perceived as less destructive to the general public.

The company is backed by T. Boone Pickens, who is ‘developing a nationwide network of natural gas pumps and plans to introduce the fuel elsewhere as well.”

This is not a new form of energy – those in agriculture and waste management have looked to methane for years as a source of electricity generation and transportation fuel, but this is the first time it will be available on such a large scale for the purposes of fueling transportation in so many forms.

The long-term benefits of turning our trash into treasure will have to be measured against the environmental impact of landfills themselves, but for now, we are at least turning a current problem into a viable solution. Methane gas gleaned from our trash heaps, instead of petroleum, or even Nuclear energy in light of the Fukushima disaster are much safer alternatives for running the nation.

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