Collecting and using biogas from landfills

Landfills for municipal solid waste can be a source of energy. Anaerobic bacteria that live in landfills decompose organic waste to produce a gas called biogas. Biogas contains methane. Methane is the same energy-rich gas found in natural gas, which is used for heating, cooking, and producing electricity.

Landfill biogas can be dangerous to people and the environment because methane is flammable, and it is a strong greenhouse gas. In the United States, there are rules requiring landfills to collect methane gas for safety and rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A diagram showing how a modern landfill works.

Source: Adapted from National Energy Education Project (public domain)

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Some landfills control the methane gas emissions simply by burning or flaring methane gas. Methane gas can also be used as an energy source. Many landfills collect biogas, treat it, and then sell the methane. Some landfills use the methane gas to generate electricity.

Using biogas from animal waste

Some farmers produce biogas in large tanks called digesters where they place manure and bedding material from their barns. Some farmers cover their manure ponds (also called lagoons) to capture biogas. Biogas digesters and manure ponds contain the same anaerobic bacteria found in landfills. The methane in the biogas can be used for heating and can also be used for generating electricity on the farm.