WASHINGTON — Decomposing garbage is now fueling vehicles at the St. Landry Parish landfill.
The St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Disposal District on Wednesday commissioned a new “biogas” facility, which pulls methane from the decomposing mounds of trash and routes it to a natural gas fueling station nearby.
“Not only is it the only one in the state, but it’s one of only a few in the country,” Solid Waste Disposal District Director Katry Martin said.
Ten St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office vehicles and five pickup trucks at the landfill have already been converted to run off natural gas, and the solid waste district plans to buy more natural gas-powered vehicles and heavy equipment as older models are replaced, Martin said.
There has been growing interest nationwide in powering vehicles with natural gas as a cheaper and cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline.
The landfill gas project not only provides clean, cheap fuel for the solid waste district, but it uses natural gas that might otherwise be wasted, Martin said.
The methane is collected through a series of perforated pipes in rock-filled pockets within the landfill. A vacuum system then sucks the gas out and sends it through equipment that removes moisture and filters out impurities, said Steven Wittmann, with Cornerstone Environmental Group.
The Wisconsin-based company developed the technology being used for the landfill’s fueling station project.
Wittmann said the methane gas that comes out of the fueling station’s pump is about 98 percent to 99 percent pure and can be used in any standard natural gas-powered engine.
The fueling station pump looks similar to a conventional gas station pump and even has a fuel card reader.
The station is not open to the general public.
Martin said the main market will be vehicle fleets operated by local government in the area, and fuel savings could be significant.
St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said he expects to save about $5,000 a month on fuel bills for the 10 vehicles his office has converted to run on natural gas.
Martin said the rate charged to Sheriff’s Office for natural gas varies, but is generally about $2 cheaper when comparing a gallon of gasoline with an equivalent amount of natural gas.
The fueling station project has its roots in an earlier project by the Solid Waste Disposal District to capitalize on the market for selling so-called carbon credits.
Carbon credits are created by groups that reduce pollution and then sold to industries that are facing tough environmental standards and choose to purchase what amounts to an allowance for pollution.
The environmental trade-off is that the extra pollution created by the company buying the credit is offset by the reduction in pollution that created the credit.
The landfill in St. Landry Parish has made an average of $150,000 to $175,000 a year selling carbon credits since 2009 by capturing methane, a greenhouse gas created during decomposition, and then burning the gas off with a flare, Martin said.
The fueling station idea developed with the realization that it didn’t matter “whether we burn it at the end of a flare or burn it in an engine,” Martin said.
The cost of the fueling station and the conversion of the vehicles was about $1 million, Martin said. He said state and federal grants are expected to cover more than two-thirds of the cost.
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