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Engineering

Waste management research investigates methane emissions from landfill sites

Published: 10 January 2019
Google Earth visualisation
Measured downwind methane emissions visualised using Google Earth.

Researchers at the University of Southampton are demonstrating a state-of-the-art technique for measuring the release of landfill gas into the atmosphere that will support a national drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr Tristan Rees-White from Southampton’s Waste Management Research Group is investigating variations in methane emissions across three UK landfill sites by using the Tracer Gas Dispersion Method (TDM).

The research, which is being conducted in partnership with the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency, will help produce realistic annual emission rates for sites, an important metric in the UK’s response to climate change.

The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over the coming decades, requiring a rigorous evaluation of environments such as landfill sites.

“The decomposition of organic materials in landfills is estimated to account for around a third of the UK’s emissions of methane, which as a greenhouse gas is at least 29 times more potent than carbon dioxide when considered over a 100-year period,” Tristan explains.

“Various methods for quantifying methane emissions from landfills are available, but this is a challenging task due to spatial and temporal variations. The key challenges we are addressing in this research relate to understanding how different operational, meteorological and other site conditions affect whole site methane emission rates from landfill, and how a single such measurement can be corrected to give a realistic annual emission rate for the site.”

The selected TDM technique releases an acetylene tracer gas from the surface of the landfill and measures its dispersal and integration with methane downwind using mobile high-resolution analytical equipment. Based on a constant tracer gas release rate and good mixing between the tracer and landfill gas, the methane emission rate can be calculated by analysing the cross-plume concentration.

The project is conducting experiments on operational and closed landfill locations, with measurements being repeated up to seven times at each landfill over a period of five months.

The techniques used can also be applied to monitor other localised sources of methane emissions including waste water treatment plants and compost facilities.

This project links into Southampton’s long term research interest into how to make landfills more sustainable. This research is generally aimed at helping reduce the timescale and cost of landfill aftercare - the environmental control measures required to control the release of liquid and gaseous pollutants to the surrounding environment. For modern landfill sites, aftercare is likely to be required for many centuries after closure.

Previous research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) enabled Southampton to setup a national forum on Landfill Aftercare (LANDSS). The forum meets annually and brings together a broad range of stakeholders including Government, Local Authorities, private industry, consultants and regulators. It aims to bring new research and ideas to the landfill community and offers an opportunity for open discussion and exchange of ideas about challenges and solutions to landfill aftercare. The next forum meeting will be in March 2019.

 

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