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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Garbage Fuel

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on a cost-saving process that makes energy from landfill waste.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: Ah shucks! Turns out oysters may be key to restoring San Francisco Bay. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

CHU: The average person in the U.S. generates almost a ton of waste per year and most of it winds up in landfills. As this waste decomposes, it produces a blend called Landfill Gas or LFG, which is composed of 50 percent methane and 50 percent carbon dioxide. LFG can be extracted and processed into fuel to power vehicles and turbines or heat and cool buildings. But, when air enters the landfill it raises the cost of LFG purification, since separating nitrogen and oxygen is expensive. So, British scientist Viktor Popov has come up with a design that virtually eliminates air from entering a landfill in the first place. Popov's solution is to cover the landfill with a multi-layer membrane that includes a middle permeable layer sandwiched between two low permeable layers. In the middle layer, carbon dioxide prevents air from entering the landfill and LFG from escaping, allowing for efficient and cost-effective purification of LFG. In 2003, more than six million metric tons of methane was captured from landfills in the U.S., half of which was used for energy production. Popov's new design will allow the U.S. to increase its use of methane while decreasing its emission of global warming, greenhouse gasses. So, maybe some of that garbage you're throwing away isn't such a waste after all. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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