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Landfill Methane Outreach Program

Basic Information

Highlights

As of January 2014, there are 636 operational LFG energy projects in the United States and approximately 450 landfills that are good candidates for projects.

Of the 2,400 or so currently operating or recently closed MSW landfills in the United States, more than 580 have LFG utilization projects. EPA estimates that approximately 450 additional MSW landfills could turn their gas into energy, producing enough electricity to power more than 490,000 homes.


You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

About LMOP

The U.S. EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) is a voluntary assistance program that helps to reduce methane emissions from landfills by encouraging the recovery and use of landfill gas (LFG) as an energy resource. LMOP forms partnerships with communities, landfill owners, utilities, power marketers, states, project developers, tribes, and nonprofit organizations to overcome barriers to project development by helping them assess project feasibility, find financing, and market the benefits of project development to the community. EPA launched LMOP to encourage productive use of this resource as part of the United States' commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

LMOP provides services such as:

  • Technical assistance, guidance materials, and software to assess a potential project's economic feasibility.
  • Assistance in creating partnerships and locating financing for projects.
  • Informational materials to help educate the community and the local media about the benefits of LFG energy.
  • Networking opportunities with peers and LFG energy experts to allow communities to share challenges and successes.

For more information, read LMOP's brochure “Landfill Methane Outreach Program and Landfill Gas Energy: The Power of Partnership (PDF)(4 pp, 401K)

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Methane Emissions From Landfills

Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 18.2 percent of these emissions in 2012. At the same time, methane emissions from landfills represent a lost opportunity to capture and use a significant energy resource. LFG is created as solid waste decomposes in a landfill. This gas consists of about 50 percent methane (the primary component of natural gas), about 50 percent carbon dioxide (CO2), and a small amount of non–methane organic compounds. To learn more about methane emissions from landfills in the United States, visit EPA's methane emissions page. For more information on methane emissions from landfills internationally, visit EPA's International Analyses site. Additionally, EPA issued a rule (40 CFR Part 98) in October 2009 that requires the reporting of greenhouse gases. The rule requires reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from large sources and suppliers in the United States, and is intended to collect accurate and timely emissions data to inform future policy decisions. More information on the rule may be found on the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program page.

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Converting Landfill Gas to Energy

Instead of escaping into the air, LFG can be captured, converted, and used as an energy source. Using LFG helps to reduce odors and other hazards associated with LFG emissions, and it helps prevent methane from migrating into the atmosphere and contributing to local smog and global climate change.

LFG is extracted from landfills using a series of wells and a blower/flare (or vacuum) system. This system directs the collected gas to a central point where it can be processed and treated depending upon the ultimate use for the gas. From this point, the gas can be flared, used to generate electricity, replace fossil fuels in industrial and manufacturing operations, or upgraded to pipeline–quality gas where the gas may be used directly or processed into an alternative vehicle fuel.

Diagrams and photographs of the various components of an LFG collection system:

There are several options for converting LFG to energy. Below are descriptions of some of the typical project types.

Electricity Generation

The generation of electricity from LFG makes up about three–fourths of the currently operational projects in the United States. Electricity for on–site use or sale to the grid can be generated using a variety of different technologies, including internal combustion engines, turbines, microturbines, and fuel cells. The vast majority of projects use internal combustion (reciprocating) engines or turbines, with microturbine technology being used at smaller landfills and in niche applications. Technologies such as Stirling and organic Rankine cycle engines and fuel cells are still in development.

Direct Use

Directly using LFG to offset the use of another fuel (e.g., natural gas, coal, fuel oil) is occurring in about one–fourth of the currently operational projects. This direct use of LFG can be in a boiler, dryer, kiln, greenhouse, or other thermal application. LFG can also be used directly to evaporate leachate. Innovative direct uses include firing pottery and glass–blowing kilns; powering and heating greenhouses and an ice rink; and heating water for an aquaculture (fish farming) operation. Current industries using LFG include auto manufacturing, chemical production, food processing, pharmaceuticals, cement and brick manufacturing, wastewater treatment, consumer electronics and products, paper and steel production, and prisons and hospitals, just to name a few.

Cogeneration

Cogeneration (also known as combined heat and power or CHP) projects using LFG generate both electricity and thermal energy, usually in the form of steam or hot water. Several cogeneration projects have been installed at industrial operations, using both engines and turbines. The efficiency gains of capturing the thermal energy in addition to electricity generation can make these projects very attractive.

Alternate Fuels

Production of alternate fuels from LFG is an emerging area. LFG has been successfully delivered to the natural gas pipeline system as both a high–Btu and medium–Btu fuel. LFG has also been converted to vehicle fuel in the form of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. Projects to convert LFG to methanol are in the planning stages.

To learn more about the costs and emission reduction potential of these LFG energy opportunities, visit the Publications/Tools page.

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Benefits of Landfill Gas Energy

Using LFG for energy is a win/win opportunity. LFG utilization projects involve citizens, nonprofit organizations, local governments, and industry in sustainable community planning and create partnerships. These projects go hand–in–hand with community and corporate commitments to cleaner air, renewable energy, economic development, improved public welfare and safety, and reductions in greenhouse (global warming) gases. By linking communities with innovative ways to deal with their LFG, LMOP contributes to the creation of livable communities that enjoy increased environmental protection, better waste management, and responsible community planning. See “Landfill Gas: Creating Green Energy in Your Community” for more information on the benefits of LFG energy.

EPA is interested in developing LFG energy for many reasons:

  • Projects help destroy methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.
  • Projects generate renewable energy and offset the use of non-renewable resources such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
  • There are many cost–effective options for reducing methane emissions while generating energy.
  • Projects help reduce local air pollution.
  • Projects create jobs, revenues, and cost savings. (To learn more about the economic feasibility of an LFG energy project, see LFGcost–Web. Exit EPA disclaimer)

LFG emitted from decomposing garbage is a reliable and renewable fuel option that remains largely untapped at many landfills across the United States, despite its many benefits. Generating energy from LFG creates a number of environmental benefits.

It directly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

MSW landfills are the third-largest human-generated source of methane emissions in the United States, releasing an estimated 83.1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) to the atmosphere in 2012 alone. Given that all landfills generate methane, it makes sense to use the gas for the beneficial purpose of energy generation rather than emitting it to the atmosphere. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas that is a key contributor to global climate change (25 times stronger than CO2). Methane also has a short (10-year) atmospheric life. Because methane is both potent and short-lived, reducing methane emissions from MSW landfills is one of the best ways to achieve a near-term beneficial impact in mitigating global climate change.

It is estimated that an LFG energy project will capture roughly 60 to 90 percent of the methane emitted from the landfill, depending on system design and effectiveness. The captured methane is destroyed (converted to water and the much less potent CO2) when the gas is burned to produce electricity. The LFG Energy Benefits Calculator can be used to estimate greenhouse gas reductions from LFG recovery projects.

CO2 emissions from MSW landfills are not considered to contribute to global climate change because the carbon was contained in recently living biomass. The same CO2 would be emitted as a result of the natural decomposition of the organic waste materials outside the landfill environment.

It indirectly reduces air pollution by offsetting the use of non–renewable resources.

Producing energy from LFG avoids the need to use non–renewable resources such as coal, oil, or natural gas to produce the same amount of energy. This can avoid gas end–user and power plant emissions of CO2 and criteria pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (which is a major contributor to acid rain), particulate matter (a respiratory health concern), nitrogen oxides (NOX), and trace hazardous air pollutants.

Note that—like all combustion devices—LFG electricity generation devices emit some NOX, which can contribute to local ozone and smog formation. Depending on the fuels and technologies used by the power plant and the landfill project, the NOX emission reductions from the power plant may not completely offset the NOX emitted from the LFG electricity project. Overall, however, LFG electricity generation projects significantly improve the environment, because of the large methane reductions, hazardous air pollutant reductions, and avoidance of the use of limited non–renewable resources such as coal and oil that are more polluting than LFG.

It creates other indirect benefits.

Collecting LFG to produce electricity improves the air quality of the surrounding community by reducing landfill odors. Burning LFG to produce electricity also destroys most of the non–methane organic compounds that are present at low concentrations in uncontrolled LFG, thereby reducing possible health risks from these compounds. Gas collection can also improve safety by reducing explosion hazards from gas accumulation in structures on or near the landfill. Generating electricity from existing MSW landfills is also a relatively cost–effective way to provide new renewable energy generation capacity to supply community power needs.

It benefits the local economy.

LFG energy projects generate revenue from the sale of the gas. LFG use can also create jobs associated with the design, construction, and operation of energy recovery systems. LFG energy projects involve engineers, construction firms, equipment vendors, and utilities or end–users of the power produced. Much of this cost is spent locally for drilling, piping, construction, and operational personnel, helping communities to realize economic benefits from increased employment and local sales. Businesses are also realizing the cost savings associated with using LFG as a replacement for more expensive fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Some companies will save millions of dollars over the life of their LFG energy projects. By linking communities with innovative ways to deal with their LFG, LMOP helps communities enjoy increased environmental protection, better waste management, and responsible community planning. For example, the Ecology Club at Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri, came up with the idea to use gas from the nearby landfill to heat their school. The school paid $175,000 to run a 3,600–foot pipeline between the landfill and the school's two basement boilers. In turn, the landfill owner donated the methane to the school as a way of “giving back to the community.” The school anticipates that it will save $40,000 a year and recapture its investment within five years.

It reduces environmental compliance costs.

Current EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act require many larger landfills to collect and combust LFG. There are several compliance options, including flaring the gas or installing an LFG use system. Only LFG energy recovery gives communities and landfill owners the opportunity to reduce the costs associated with regulatory compliance by turning pollution into a valuable community resource.

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