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Should we use control measures at a landfill?
Many landfills across the country are installing gas control systems because of state and federal regulatory
requirements. The federal government has developed laws and regulations that govern the operation and
maintenance of landfills. These regulations have been developed to reduce health and environmental impacts from
landfill gas emissions through the reduction of ozone precursors (volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides),
methane, None Methane Organic Compounds (NMOC’s), and odorous compounds. States may also have states
specific landfill regulations, which must be as strict as or stricter than federal regulations.
Odor complaints or potential safety and health concerns may also prompt landfill gas collection. Sulfide emissions
are a common source of landfill odor complaints. At older landfills or at smaller landfills exempt from federal and
state regulations, uncontrolled releases of landfill gases can pose potential safety and health concerns (e.g,
explosion hazards). In such cases, the landfill might implement landfill gas control measures, even if they are not
required by federal or state regulations. Some landfills have also implemented voluntary gas collection and control
or treatment systems to recover landfill gas for energy production.
What are the important components of a landfill gas control plan?
The goal of a landfill gas control plan is to prevent people from being exposed to landfill gas emissions. This goal
can be achieved at the landfill or by preventing landfill gas from entering buildings and homes in the community.
Technologies used to control landfill gas at the landfill or in the community can be applied separately or in
combination. The NSPS rule specifies the type of information that must be included and the criteria the collection
and control systems must meet.
Federal Requirements Under Subtitle D of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for Landfill
Gas Migration Control
Since October 1979, federal regulations promulgated under Subtitle D of RCRA— which regulates the design,
construction, operation, monitoring, and closure of MSW landfills—have required controls on migration of methane
in landfill gas. These regulations do not address other components of landfill gas. In 1991, EPA issued standards
for landfill design and performance that apply to MSW landfills active on or after October 9, 1993. The standards
require methane monitoring and establish performance standards for methane migration control. Monitoring
requirements must be met at landfills not only during their operation, but also for a period of 30 years after closure.
Landfills affected by RCRA Subtitle D are required to control gas by establishing a program to periodically check for
methane emissions and prevent off-site migration. Landfill owners and operators must ensure that the concentration
of methane gas does not exceed:
• 25% of the LEL for methane in the facilities' structures (1.25% by volume)
• The LEL for methane at the facility boundary (5% by volume)
Permitted limits on methane levels reflect the fact that methane is explosive within the range of 5% to 15% by
volume of concentration in air. If methane emissions exceed the permitted limits, corrective action (i. e, installation of
a landfill gas collection system) must be taken. The Subtitle D RCRA regulations for MSW landfills can be found in
40 CFR Part 258.
Federal Requirements Under the Clean Air Act (CAA) Regulations (NSPS/EG)
Under NSPS/EG of the CAA, EPA requires affected landfills to collect and control landfill gas. The NSPS/EG target
reductions in the emissions of landfill gas due to odor, possible health effects, and safety concerns. The rules use
NMOCs (which contribute to local smog formation) as a surrogate for total landfill gas to determine if control is
required. Landfills meeting certain design capacity and emissions criteria are required to collect landfill gas and
either combust the gas or use it for energy. Landfills that meet both of the following criteria must collect and control
landfill gas emissions.
• Capacity: design capacity greater than or equal to 2.5 Mg and 2.5 million cubic meters.
• Emissions: annual NMOC emission rate greater than or equal to 50 Mg.
The basic requirements are the same for both existing and new landfills. Existing landfills are defined as landfills that
received waste after November 8, 1987, and began construction before May 30, 1991. These are regulated through
the EG. New landfills are defined as landfills that began construction, reconstruction, or modification on or after May
30, 1991. These are subject to the NSPS. The CAA regulations (NSPS/EG) for MSW landfills can be found in 40
CFR Part 60
How do I collect the landfill gas?
Landfill gas can be collected by either a passive or an active collection system. A typical collection system, either
passive or active, is composed of a series of gas collection wells placed throughout the landfill. The number and
spacing of the wells depend on landfill-specific characteristics, such as waste volume, density, depth, and area. As
gas is generated in the landfill, the collection wells offer preferred pathways for gas migration. Most collection
systems are designed with a degree of redundancy to ensure continued operation and protect against system
failure. Redundancy in a system may include extra gas collection wells in case one well fails. The system-specific
components for passive and active gas collection systems are discussed below.
• Passive Gas Collection Systems. Passive gas collection systems (Figure 1-1) use existing variations in
landfill pressure and gas concentrations to vent landfill gas into the atmosphere or a control system. Passive
collection systems can be installed during active operation of a landfill or after closure. Passive systems use
collection wells, also referred to as extraction wells, to collect landfill gas. The collection wells are typically
constructed of perforated or slotted plastic and are installed vertically throughout the landfill to depths
ranging from 50% to 90% of the waste thickness.
If groundwater is encountered within the waste, wells end at the groundwater table. Vertical wells are typically
installed after the landfill, or a portion of a landfill, has been closed. A passive collection system may also
include horizontal wells located below the ground surface to serve as conduits for gas movement
within the landfill. Horizontal wells may be appropriate for landfills that need to recover gas promptly (e.g, landfills
with subsurface gas migration problems), for deep landfills, or for active landfills. Sometimes, the collection wells
vent directly to the atmosphere. Often, the collection wells convey the gas to treatment or control systems
(e.g, combustion systems).
The efficiency of a passive collection system partly depends on how well the gas is contained within the landfill. Gas
containment can be controlled and altered by the landfill collection system design. Gas can be contained by
using liners on the top, sides, and bottom of the landfill. An impermeable liner (e. g, clay or geosynthetic
membranes) will trap landfill gas and can be used to create preferred gas migration pathways. For example,
installing an impermeable barrier at the top of a landfill will limit uncontrolled venting to the atmosphere
by causing the gas to vent through collection wells rather than the cover.
The efficiency of a passive collection system also depends on environmental conditions, which may or may not be
controlled by the system design. When the pressure in the landfill is inadequate to push the gas to the
venting device or control device, passive systems fail to remove landfill gas effectively.
High barometric pressure sometimes results in outside air entering the landfill through passive vents that
are not routing gas to control devices. For these reasons, passive collection systems are not considered
reliable enough for use in areas with a high risk of gas migration, especially where methane can collect to
explosive levels in buildings and confined spaces.
It is fairly common for landfills to combust gas due to odor concerns, for example, even if not the landfill is not
subject to regulatory requirements. Passive gas collection systems may be used to comply with the NSPS/ EG only
at landfills where cells are lined in accordance with Subtitle D of RCRA to prevent gas migration.
• Active Gas Collection. Well-designed active collection systems are considered the most effective means
of landfill gas collection (EPA 1991). Active gas collection systems include vertical and horizontal gas
collection wells similar to passive collection systems. Unlike the gas collection wells in a passive system, however,
wells in the active system should have valves to regulate gas flow and to serve as a sampling port. Sampling allows
the system operator to measure gas generation, composition, and pressure.
Active gas collection systems include negative static pressure systems, vacuums or pumps that move gas
out of the landfill and piping that connects the collection wells to the negative static pressure system, often
vacuum systems are used. Negative static pressure systems pull gas from the landfill by creating low negative
pressure within the gas collection wells. The low pressure in the wells creates a preferred migration pathway
for the landfill gas. The size, type, and amount of static pressure required in an active system to pull the gas from
the landfill depend on the amount of gas being produced. With information about landfill gas generation,
composition, and pressure, a landfill operator can assess gas production and distributions changes and modify the
negative static pressure system and collection well valves to most efficiently run an active gas collection system.
The system design should account for future gas management needs, such as those associated with landfill
What components are in an Effective Active Gas System Designed?
An effective active gas collection system incorporates the following design elements (EPA 1991):
• Gas-moving equipment, including negative static fans, vacuums and piping, capable of handling the maximum
landfill gas generation rate.
• Collection wells placed to capture gas from all areas of the landfill. The number and spacing between each
extraction well depends on the waste type, depth, and compaction; the pressure gradients created by the negative
static pressure fans, vacuums; and the moisture content of the gas.
• The ability to monitor and adjust flow from individual extraction wells. Inclusion of a valve, pressure gauge,
condenser, and sampling port at each collection well allows a landfill operator to monitor and adjust pressure and to
measure gas generation and content.
What methods are available to treat landfill gas after collection?
Some passive gas collection systems simply vent landfill gas to the atmosphere without any treatment before
release. This may be appropriate if only a small quantity of gas is produced and no people live or work nearby.
More commonly, however, the collected landfill gas is controlled and treated to reduce potential safety and health
hazards. (A landfill may be required to do so by law, such as the NSPS/ EG and PSD GHG. Common methods to
treat landfill gas include combustion and non combustion technologies, as well as odor control technologies.
• Combustion. Combustion is the most common technique for controlling and treating landfill gas.
Combustion technologies such as direct fired enclosed flares, incinerators, regenerative thermal oxidizers, boilers,
gas turbines, and internal combustion engines thermally destroy the compounds in landfill gas. Over 98%
destruction of organic compounds is typically achieved. Methane is converted to carbon dioxide, resulting in a large
reduction in greenhouse gas. Combustion is most efficient when the landfill gas contains between 1% and
20% methane by volume. Regenerative thermal oxidizers operate fuel free on 0.85% while flares are limited to
20% by volume. At the higher limits of 20% methane concentration will readily form a combustible mixture with
ambient air, so that only an ignition source is needed for operation. At landfills with less than 20% methane by
volume will need to use other technologies i.e, regenerative thermal oxidizers or catalytic thermal oxidizers otherwise
supplemental fuel (e. g, natural gas) is required to operate open flares, greatly increasing operating costs. When
combustion is used, several different types of combustion methods can be chosen: open or enclosed flares and
regenerative thermal oxidizers.
- Open flame flares (e. g, candle or pipe flares), the simplest flaring technology, consist of a pipe through which
the gas is pumped, a pilot light to spark the gas, and a means to regulate the gas flow. The simplicity of the
design and operation of an open flame flare is an advantage of this technology. Disadvantages include
inefficient combustion, aesthetic complaints, and monitoring difficulties. Sometimes, open flame
flares are partially covered to hide the flame from view and improve monitoring accuracy.
- Enclosed flame flares are more complex than open flame flares. Nevertheless, most flares designed
today are enclosed, because this design eliminates some of the disadvantages associated with open flame
flares. Enclosed flame flares consist of multiple burners enclosed within fire- resistant walls that
extend above the flame. Unlike open flame flares, the amount of gas and air entering an enclosed
flame flare can be controlled, making combustion more reliable and more efficient.
- Other enclosed combustion technologies such as regenerative thermal oxidizers, boilers, process
heaters, turbines, and internal combustion engines can be used not only to efficiently destroy
organic compounds in landfill gas, but also to generate useful energy or electricity.
Some public concerns have been raised about whether the combustion of landfill gas may create toxic chemicals.
Combustion can create acid gases such as SO2 and NOX. The generation of dioxins has also been questioned.
EPA investigated the issue of dioxin formation and concluded that the existing data from several landfills did not
provide evidence showing significant dioxin formation during landfill gas combustion. Because of the potential
imminent health threat from other components of landfill gas, landfill gas destruction in a properly designed and
operated control device, such as a thermal oxidizers or energy recovery unit, is preferable to uncontrolled release of
- Non combustion. Non combustion technologies were developed in the 1990s as an alternative to combustion,
which produces compounds that contribute to smog, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon
monoxide, and particulate matter. Non combustion technologies fall into two groups: energy recovery
technologies and gas-to-product conversion technologies.
- Regenerative thermal oxidizers coupled with an micro turbine power generation system is the only
technology that requires no pretreatment to remove impurities and can generate electricity through the use
of a micro turbine system, otherwise regardless of which non combustion technology is used, the
landfill gas must first undergo pretreatment to remove impurities such as water, NMOCs, and
Numerous pretreatment methods are available to address the impurities of concern for a specific landfill. After
pretreatment, the purified landfill gas is treated by non combustion technology options.
- Energy Recovery Technologies use landfill gas to produce energy directly. Currently, the phosphoric acid
fuel cell (PAFC) is the only commercially available non combustion energy recovery technology. The PAFC
system consists of landfill gas collection and pretreatment, a fuel cell processing system, fuel cell stacks, and
a power conditioning system. Several chemical reactions occur within this system to create water, electricity,
heat, and waste gases. The waste gases are destroyed in an oxidation system.
- Gas-To-Product conversion technologies focus on converting landfill gas into commercial products, such as
compressed natural gas, methanol, purified carbon dioxide and methane, or liquefied natural gas. The
processes used to produce each of these products vary, but each includes landfill gas collection,
pretreatment, and chemical reactions and/ or purification techniques and requires very large gas quantities to
become viable. Most must use combustion technology to destroy gaseous wastes.
- Odor Control Technologies. Odor control technologies prevent odor-causing gases from leaving the
landfill. Installing a landfill cover will prevent odors from newly deposited waste or from gases produced
during bacterial decomposition. Covering a landfill daily with soil can help reduce odors from newly deposited
wastes. More extensive covers are installed at landfill closure to prevent moisture from infiltrating
the refuse and encouraging bacterial growth and decomposition. Vegetative growth on the landfill
cover also reduces odors. Combustion is another technique that can eliminate landfill gas odors by thermally
destroying the odor-causing gases. Venting landfill gas through an active carbon filter is another technology
used to reduce odors.
What beneficial uses are there for collected landfill gas?
Landfill gas is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions in the United States,
contributing to almost 40% of methane emissions each year (EPA 1996). Consequently, a growing trend at
landfills across the country is to use recovered methane gas from landfills as an energy source. Collecting landfill
gas for energy use greatly reduces the risk of explosions, provides financial benefits for the community,
conserves other energy resources, and potentially reduces the risk of global climate change.
What landfills can be used for gas recovery and how is energy generated from landfill gas?
The feasibility of installing a landfill gas recovery system depends on factors such as landfill gas generation
rates, the availability of users, and the potential environmental impacts. Many different landfill types with
varying gas production rates and composition can support energy recovery projects. There are, however,
several guidelines to consider when assessing the feasibility of generating energy from landfill gas.
If feasible, energy recovery can be implemented by use of combustion - or non combustion - based
technologies. Combustion-based technologies that recover energy include regenerative thermal oxidizers with low
waste heat micro turbines, boilers, process heaters, gas turbines, and internal combustion engines. For example,
landfill gas can be piped to a nearby industry, commercial business, school or government building where it is
combusted in a boiler to provide steam for an industrial process or heat for a building. It may be combusted in an
industrial process heater to provide heat for a chemical reaction. The electricity can be used to meet power
needs at the landfill or a nearby facility, or the electricity may be sold to the power grid.
The choice of which type of combustion device to use (e. g, regenerative thermal oxidizer with micro turbine, boiler,
gas turbine, internal combustion engine) depends on what users are located near the landfill, site-specific technical
and economic considerations, and sometimes environmental impacts. For example, regenerative thermal oxidizers
with a micro turbine power generation systems are often less costly than gas turbines for smaller landfills.
Other options include internal combustion engines, however if the landfill is in a non attainment area for
ozone, then NOx emissions may be a barrier to using an internal combustion engine.
Non combustion energy recovery systems are also available, but are not used as widely used. Fuel cells
are a promising new technology for producing energy from landfill gas that does not involve combustion. This
technology has been demonstrated and in the future may become more economically competitive with other options.
One option that does not involve combustion of landfill gas at or near the landfill is purifying the landfill gas to
remove constituents other than methane, producing a high British thermal unit (Btu) gas that can be sold as pipeline
quality natural gas. While the high Btu gas is eventually combusted, it would not contribute to any emissions near
the landfill. Another option is using compressed landfill gas as a vehicle fuel.
Air Pollution Control Equipment
American Environmental Fabrication & Supply, LLC
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