Waste Management tests trucks that run on landfill gas

April 17, 2013 7:26:30 PM PDT
No two ways about it, garbage is dirty. But at the biggest landfill in Northern California, that garbage is helping to produce something extraordinarily clean. We're talking about the Altamont Landfill, near Livermore. All that trash is being used to produce treasure.

Twenty-five tons of garbage. Each truckload is just a small, smelly chunk of the 5,000 tons dumped here every day, and the 50 million tons of trash hidden beneath the dirt at Northern California's biggest landfill.

For a lucky flock of seagulls, this is the mother lode. You can't keep 'em away. But for humans, it's just a worthless pile of junk. Right?

Though all this trash may not be any man's treasure, it turns out there's a buried treasure deep underneath it. Do you smell that? That's the smell of the fuel that will power the next generation of trash trucks.

This giant transfer truck is literally running on garbage. You see, all that trash gives off an awful lot of methane, and methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

Operations Director Ken Lewis showed us the system that pulls all that trapped gas out of the landfill; gas they'd normally have to incinerate. But now a brand new facility lets them separate the methane and pump it into their trash trucks as fuel.

"Now you're talking about a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gases," environmental consultant Sean Turner said. "So from a global warming perspective, it's a dramatic reduction."

Turner says landfill gas is even cleaner than natural gas we burn in our homes. And for Waste Management, who owns the landfill, it's cheaper. But it's only possible because of this -- a truck engine they say is the most powerful ever to run on natural gas.

"It's been in design for quite some time," Waste Management Fleet Director Marty Tufte said." When asked if they're using it before they can buy it, he answered, "Yeah, we are, we have three of those engines right now in the fleet running as prototypes."

But Waste Management plans to convert its entire fleet to trucks that can run off of trash gas. They're not just cleaner -- they're quieter.

So quiet that soon, the loudest noise here might be those seagulls.

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