A landfill is full of things people don't consider useful anymore. One group begs to differ. (Photo by Roberto Burgos S.)
The landfill is often seen as the end of the line… the burial ground of our trash. But one company says there’s still something to gain from that buried garbage. It’s planning to build a new plant to retrieve one final product from all of our trash. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kasler has the story:
The landfill is often seen as the end of the line… the burial ground of our
trash. But one company says there’s still something to gain from that buried
garbage. It’s planning to build a new plant to retrieve one final product from
all of our trash. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kasler has the
You probably don’t think of landfills as “green.” But Steve Wilburn does.
Wilburn is the president of FirmGreen. He says he knows different ways to
turn byproducts of landfills into useful energy.
First, capture the methane that’s produced when all that garbage stews
underground. Second, use it as fuel to generate electricity. Third, turn it into compressed gas for trucks. And finally, mix
it with soybean oil to make soy diesel.
Steve Wilburn says it’s an ambitious project.
“This is the first of its kind in the world. The Green Energy Center concept is
something I came up with about four years ago, and as we explored for ways to
implement it, we needed a centerpiece, a technology that was missing, and that
was to clean up the landfill gas in a very cost-effective way.”
FirmGreen is building what it calls its Green Energy Center right next to the
landfill in Columbus, Ohio. Mike Long is with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio – SWACO for short. Long says right
now, there’s no practical use for the methane and carbon dioxide produced by the rotting garbage in the landfill.
“Currently, SWACO’s control technology is to have a flare where we burn off the
gases to keep it from getting up into the atmosphere. But the new technology,
we will take that gas and make it into energy and consumer products rather than
just simply burning it and exhausting it.”
Instead of burning those landfill gases, they’ll be redirected a small
electric generator operated by FirmGreen. The electricity will be sold back to
SWACO to power its main office and its fleet garage. That’ll start in just a
Later, FirmGreen will convert methane into compressed natural gas. That will
be used to fuel SWACO’s vehicles, which could save the waste authority an
estimated 100 thousand dollars a year.
FirmGreen’s President, Steve Wilburn says the final part of the project is the
real profit maker for his company: turning methanol into biodiesel.
“When we create
methanol, we then have the bridge to the hydrogen economy because ethanol is an
excellent hydrogen carrier. It’s also used in the manufacture and production of
biodiesel. Ohio is a large soybean producing state. So we’ll take our green
methanol and we’ll blend that with the soy oil and we’re going to create
When the FirmGreen biodiesel processing facility is up and running, it will
need 69 thousand acres of soybeans to produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel
annually. FirmGreen already has a contract with Mitsubishi Gas Chemical
Company to provide 6 million gallons of biodiesel a year. FirmGreen also hopes
to interest the growing hydrogen fuel cell industry.
“Biofuels” have their critics, who are concerned that it takes as much energy
or more energy to create biofuels than they produce. Mike Long at SWACO says
he’s heard that before, but it doesn’t apply to this project.
energy is already here, and is being flared off right now at our landfill. There’s no recovery of the energy, no beneficial
use. So for those who argue that this process would be a consumer of energy, it’s not a net consumer, and right now, we’re wasting energy.”
Long and Wilburn point to statistics from the U.S. EPA. They says the data show
the Green Energy Center will have the same effect as reducing oil consumption by
more than twenty thousand barrels a year. They say that’s like taking 2,000 cars off the road.
Sam Spofforth is with the Central Ohio Clean Fuels Coalition. He says even
when factoring in the fuel used by trucks transporting the methanol to the
remote biodiesel processing facilities, the project still looks green to him.
“In terms of biodiesel, it’s about three point two energy units out for every one energy
unit in. What is even more exciting about this project – methane
gas is about twenty times as potent as a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. So the
fact that they’re using methane that would otherwise be vented into the air
makes the net emissions of those greenhouse gas even more positive.”
The Green Energy Center in Ohio is the first in the nation, but a second one
is planned to be built near Saint Louis, Missouri. With giant landfills venting
off methane in places around the country, if these two make money, it’s a
pretty sure bet others will be built in the near future.
Honda is well known for its cars, but might soon be known as number one in non-GMO soybean exports. (Photo by Simon Cataudo)
Most people associate Honda with cars and motorcycles. But the company has an interesting sideline: as a cost-saving measure, they’ve been exporting soybeans from the U.S. to Japan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has more:
Most people associate Honda with cars and motorcycles. But the company has
an interesting sideline: as a cost-saving measure, they’ve been exporting
soybeans from the US to Japan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora
Flaherty has more:
Honda started exporting the beans as a way to reuse the huge cargo
containers that would arrive at the plant filled with auto parts. Instead of
sending them back empty, they wanted to fill the containers with something that
they could sell, and soy beans were a good fit. Joe Hannisik is the manager
of the plant, called Happy Ohio, where the beans are processed for shipping.
“We basically contract production with about 250 to 280 farmers in Ohio and
southern Michigan, for contract production, back to Happy Ohio, for processing and shipment of
soybeans primarily to Japan the majority of them.”
Honda only buys beans that haven’t been genetically modified, because that’s
what the Japanese prefer. And Honda pays farmers a higher price for their
beans than they’d get on the open market. Hannisik says that this can make a
difference when farmers are making decisions about whether to plant
genetically modified seeds.
A large percentage of people is intolerant to lactose, found in cow's milk. The Child Nutrition Act is now taking this into consideration as it helps fund serving soymilk in schools. (Photo by Carlos Paes)
Soymilk could be on the menu in more schools next year. That’s because Congress voted to include the beverage in the latest version of the Child Nutrition Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman
Soymilk could be on the menu in more schools next year. That’s because Congress voted to include the beverage in the latest version of the Child Nutrition Act. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Soymilk is considered an alternative to cows’ milk for lactose-intolerant people. But until now, schools could only get Federal funding for soymilk if they served it to children who had a note from their doctor. Starting next school year, schools will be reimbursed for serving soymilk to anybody.
Earl Williams is President of the Illinois Soybean Association. He says the economic impact on soybean farmers will likely be small.
“It doesn’t take a very large acreage of soybeans to make a lot of soymilk. But I think it has the benefit for – it introduces soy into the diets of more people, which has some health benefits.”
The National Institute of health says more than 30 million Americans are lactose-intolerant. That includes up to 75 percent of African-Americans, and up to 90 percent of Asian-Americans.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
Researchers have found a potential toxin in our food. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has an update on the ongoing concern over brominated flame retardants:
Researchers have found a potential toxin in our food. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush has an update on the ongoing concern over brominated
Brominated flame-retardants, or PBDEs are used to prevent fires in
everything from couch cushions to computer components. Several studies have
shown that there are higher amounts of these chemicals in Americans than in
people anywhere else in the world.
Researchers from the University of Texas recently tested 32 food items from major
supermarket chains in their area. They published their findings in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. They found that all products with
animal fat in them, and one soy-based infant formula, were contaminated with PBDEs.
Dr. Arnold Schecter headed up the study. He says the human health effects have yet to
“We don’t know whether these levels by themselves or in combination with
other chemicals could be causing human health effects. And, you know, we’re
particularly worried about the most sensitive population, before birth,
nursing infants, and the elderly, or people with special health problems.”
Experts say they’re concerned about these chemicals because they behave a
lot like PCBs, which are known to cause multiple health problems in humans.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Scientists have hit a roadblock in the effort to create jet fuel that uses soybean by-products. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:
Scientists have hit a roadblock in the effort to create jet fuel that uses soybean by products. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports.
Researchers at the USDA lab in Peoria, Illinois say they are ready to test a jet fuel that is made partially from soybeans. But while scientists say the new fuel will decrease engine emissions, so far no jet manufacturer is willing to take on the cost of testing the fuel. Bob Dunn is the head researcher on the project. He says eventually, government regulations will force companies to give the new fuel a try.
“If somebody says ‘We can’t let you fly this aircraft into this certain region because of the air quality issues’ than the company has to come up with an alternative aircraft or they are going to lose some business in that area.”
Dunn says in the mean time, his lab is working with the Armed Forces to try to find a way to complete a test of the fuel in jets. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.