Stories tagged natural gas

Jan
05
2012

The future is now for some lucky Americans. The rest of us will have to wait and hope that someday soon our recycling trucks might also run on “trash gas.”

“Trash gas” is natural gas that is harvested from landfills where it is produced by the decomposition (breaking down) of organic waste. One future-thinking company, Waste Management Inc, now has over 1,000 trucks fueled by methane (a natural gas) that they collect from one of their very own California landfills.
I'd Rather be a Recycling Truck: A lucky 1000 Waste Management recycling trucks run on cleaner-burning natural gas (compared to conventional diesel).  Are more in the making?
I'd Rather be a Recycling Truck: A lucky 1000 Waste Management recycling trucks run on cleaner-burning natural gas (compared to conventional diesel). Are more in the making?Courtesy Tom Raftery

Natural gas can be used in vehicles in either a compressed or liquefied state. Waste Management’s trash gas trucks are about 50/50 compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). You should check out those links, but to give you the gist of the idea here, imagine a balloon filled with natural gas. CGN is like squeezing that balloon. LGN is like cooling that balloon until the molecules inside condense into liquid like steam on a bathroom wall.

Why is this a BIG idea? CNG and LNG emit less carbon and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere than diesel (the conventional fuel used by most large trucks). As you’ve probably heard, carbon dioxide is among the greenhouse gases contributing to global climate change. Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides contribute to smog, which is bad for your health besides being unsightly. Less is definitely more when it comes to carbon and nitrogen oxides.

As for more, Waste Management’s single currently operating LGN-generating landfill creates 13,000 gallons of LGN each day, which is enough to fuel 1,000 trucks. According to the primary source of this blog post, Waste Management has another landfill-turned-fuel station up for approval. With an additional 299 landfills and about 21,000 trucks, it might not be that long before a Waste Management “trash gas” truck comes rolling along your street.

Who’da thunk it? But you can mine sand. Not just for beaches, but for hydrofracking (or 'hydraulic fracturing').
Silica sand mine: Germany, Spring 2007
Silica sand mine: Germany, Spring 2007Courtesy Songkran

[Side bar: Hydrofracking is a method of squeezing natural gas from certain special rocks. It’s expensive and has environmental consequences, but increasing demand coupled with oil and gas prices being what they are (high!) we’ll be hearing a lot more about the extraction technique. This Strib article calls silica sand "the new gold."]

And… back to sand mining. Silica sand is used by drillers in hydrofracking. According to this blog post, Red Wing, MN is primo silica sand mining land, so it’s no wonder Windsor Permian, a Texas drilling company, wants in.

A sand mining pit could create a lot of local jobs. Or it could cause lung diseases, including cancer, in the local population. Or both. Or neither.

Yikes. What’s a person to think? On the one hand, people need jobs and affordable energy. On the other hand, the very same people need good health and a stable environment.

As the global population rises in absolute size and affluence, we’ll face more difficult decisions like this one. Looking for solutions that benefit both people and the environment will characterize the future of life on Earth.

A company in California is harvesting the power of cow patties, using manure to produce natural gas for home heating.