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How landfill methane is fueling climate change

climate change - cleanbuild

How landfill methane is fueling climate change

In a bid to tackle the climate crisis, world leaders at the just concluded COP26 conference in Glasgow pledged a 30% cut in methane emission levels by 2030.

This is because methane is a major greenhouse gas (GHG) that is 28-34 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Though not as popular as carbon, methane is a major contributor to climate change because of its high heat-trapping potentials in the atmosphere, warming up the earth faster than other greenhouse gases.

Since landfills are one of the top emitters of methane gas, our focus in this article will be on how methane is produced in landfills and ways to reduce methane emissions.

Landfill methane is formed when micro-organisms — methanogen which is a type of bacteria — in the process of feeding on organic waste, break down the waste which is mostly made up of carbon and produce methane gas.

These methanogens do not initially produce methane. This happens as organic waste decomposes and the microbes eat up the waste, causing methane emissions.

Since methane commonly has a shorter life in the atmosphere albeit more potent compared to carbon, reducing methane emission from landfills can help mitigate climate change. How then can we reduce methane emissions from landfills?

One sure way of reducing landfill methane would be cutting down the amount of methane-generating waste that is dumped in landfills. What is left of the waste after separating the methane-generating materials can then be turned into compost or recycled.

Another way landfill methane can be reduced is by capturing and reusing it as a semi-clean energy source for electricity or heat generation, just like natural gas. In fact, methane is the main component of natural gas.

Some industries build onsite processing facilities that use vertical wells with vacuum pressure to draw the gas out of a landfill into a processor. The gas is then filtered and the methane is separated from the other components in the gas.

This process alone reduces the amount of methane emission from landfills that would normally have been released in the air and it will limit the use of fossil fuel.

Bottom line

Converting a potent gas like methane to renewable energy, though popular in some developed countries, still remains a less employed method in developing and underdeveloped ones.

This should be explored to reduce the role it plays as a driver of global warming as well as an alternative means of generating energy.

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