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Landfill operators explore energy-creation options

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Gas produced by a southern Indiana landfill could be captured and used to generate revenue, but Cummins workers who studied the possibilities say local officials shouldn't take the idea to the bank just yet.

The five-member Cummins Inc. team spent about 300 hours researching options for a landfill near Jonesville, about 60 miles south of Indianapolis. They interviewed potential customers and partners, conducted technical reviews, visited five landfills, interviewed landfill specialists and reviewed landfill project articles, The Republic reported.

The team then determined that capturing the gas and selling it to a utility or using it to generate electricity to sell to industrial customers made the most sense.

But team members say the idea won't be fiscally feasible until the landfill begins producing enough gas to warrant an investment of millions of dollars in equipment to capture it. That could take at least a decade.

"This is a long-term project," said Jim Murray, director of the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District.

The Cummins employees partnered with the waste district last year to determine how best to use the gas produced by local landfills.

The county landfill opened in 1999 and contains about 1.8 million cubic yards of waste. It is designed to hold about 10 million cubic yards and is expected to run out of space in 2082.

The landfill produces carbon dioxide and methane gas from plants, paper and food that decompose.

Murray says the landfill will produce so much gas in the next 12 to 15 years that government regulations will require the district to capture or burn off the gas.

The Cummins team says both options are feasible but that selling gas would be preferable.

The team also has proposed uses for a smaller landfill in Petersville, including a greenhouse or an artist incubator.

Matt John, program chairman for agriculture at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus/Franklin, said the college would welcome a greenhouse that could give high school and college students access to hands-on learning.

Cummins engineer Alberth Franco, who participated in the project, estimated that a small greenhouse would cost about $45,000.

Murray said raising the initial money for the project would be easier than making the project self-sustaining.

"I think there's some real potential," Murray said.

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