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Landfill Gas Deal Means a Lot of Hot Air


Download Van Smith's article "Down in the Dumps," which appeared in the July 3, 1996 issue. (3.1 mb pdf file)

The U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Hawkins Point soon will start getting 100 percent of its energy by converting landfill gas piped in from nearby Quarantine Road Sanitary Landfill. Ground was broken on the project on Nov. 13, and once it's up and running, the City of Baltimore will be paid $200,000 per year for 15 years for providing the gas. Landfill gas's main ingredient, methane, is a powerful greenhouse gas, and instead of venting uselessly from the city's giant pile of stinking garbage it soon will be put to work taking the Coast Guard Yard entirely off the BGE grid. High government officials from every level attended the groundbreaking, but perhaps no one was more satisfied than Mark Wick. He's the chief of the Environmental Services Division in the Deparment of Public Works' Bureau of Solid Waste, and, he says, "I've been trying to get a landfill gas project at Quarantine Road since 1999 or 2000, and finally the day has arrived—though it's really a year away, when the project becomes operational." Wick recalls being asked to look into the city's potential for using landfill gas after a

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feature, "Down in the Dumps," was published in 1996 (

). The article surveyed the problems and promise of the city's many closed landfills. As the 1996 article mentioned, the city had a landfill-gas project in the past. A contract with Maryland Recycling and Rehandling Corp. was let in 1981, Wick explains, and the company paid the city for gas from the old Pennington Avenue landfill, which it resold to the Valley Proteins rendering plant next door. The plant burned the gas to heat up the vats it uses to cook the waste fats, oils, and animal tissues it uses to make raw materials for wide spectrum of useful products. By 1993, Wick continues, "the price of natural gas plummeted, so it was more economical for Valley Proteins to go back to using natural gas," and the arrangement came to an end. This time around, Wick estimates that the methane diverted to the Coast Guard yard will generate a half a million British thermal units (BTUs) each year. To put this in perspective, the average home in the Northeastern United States uses about 60 BTUs annually, so he's talking about the equivalent of serving the energy needs of about 8,300 homes. "Things have progressed technologically," Wick observes, adding that "this project is much, much bigger."

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