Sunday, June 07 2009
Mead Johnson starts getting power from landfill gas
On Wednesday, the company announced the completion of a pipeline which takes methane gas from Laubscher Meadows landfill and conveys it five miles to three boilers in a building set back from the corner of the Lloyd Expressway and Ray Becker Drive. The project will let Mead Johnson come close to eliminating its need to burn natural gas at the site.
Jeff Jobe, Mead Johnson senior vice president of global supply chain, said most of the energy generated from the landfill methane will power manufacturing equipment. Any excess may be used for heating, cleaning machines or other purposes.
Estimates are the methane will generate enough energy to power 3,300 homes a year, Jobe said. And since Mead Johnson will burn less natural gas, its releases of carbon dioxide will be reduced by nearly 24,000 metric tons a year, an important prospect at a time that the federal government is thinking of charging companies for such emissions.
Construction on the project began in April 2008. The pipeline was taken from the landfill site on Evansville’s North side and burrowed a number of city streets, including St. Joseph Avenue, Maryland Street and Indiana Street.
“The technology has come a long way,” Jobe said. “To see them going under some of the streets was amazing.”
In similar projects, landfill gas is often taken to a power plant and burned to generate electricity. That is good, but even better is to send it directly to a user like Mead Johnson, said Michael T. Bakas, vice president of Ameresco, the company which designed the project.
The arrangement has the double benefit of preventing releases of landfill gases and reducing the user’s need to burn a fossil fuel. Bakas said Ameresco has been involved in about 35 landfill-gas projects. Mead Johnson’s is one of the few in which the use has been so direct.
“I’ve never seen one go so smooth,” he said.
The project didn’t come without substantial costs, though. Mead Johnson spent millions to modify its boilers so they could burn the landfill methane, which contains about half the energy of natural gas.
Also needed was equipment used to remove impurities from the methane, not to mention the five miles of pipeline. Many local contractors were hired for that work, and Evansville’s economy has been benefited in turn, Bakas said.
The project comes about a decade after Mead Johnson built its boiler building, an addition which enabled the company to switch from burning coal to natural gas. The result was a 75 percent reduction in the Mead Johnson’s releases of sulfur dioxide.
Jobe said the latest project was meant mainly to protect the environment. But the economics of the deal also made sense. He declined to say what Mead Johnson is paying for the landfill gas. Having it, he said, will give the company a hedge against the price of natural gas, which has fluctuated greatly in recent times.
“It is definitely a financially viable project versus natural gas,” Jobe said.
The Laubscher Meadows landfill, northeast of Evansville, is run by Republic Services Inc., which completed a merger with Allied Waste in December. Todd Chamberlain, a division sales manager with the company, said the landfill won’t reach its capacity for another 20 years at its current rate of taking in trash.
The amount of methane culled from that source will hit a peak in about 15 years, after which it will begin to dwindle. If faced with shortfalls, Mead Johnson can still buy natural gas from Vectren Corp.