Henrico's "trash to cash" effort nearly complete

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Henrico is moving closer to turning your trash into cash.

All this time, the Henrico County landfill had the potential to serve as a big pocket of energy. But, until now, that energy's been wasted.

The bacteria beneath the garbage slowly breaks it down over time, producing methane gas. Instead of burning off the gas, the county is now involved in turning it into electricity.

It's a big operation, and there's a lot of equipment, but the brains behind it all say it's a pretty basic idea.

"We're very excited to soon be generating power from what otherwise is wasted landfill gas," said Steven Yob, Division Director of Solid Waste and Recycling for Henrico County.

More than 100 wells permeate the landfill, holding valuable methane that ordinarily gets burned away every minute.

"Right now they're burning it off, wasting that energy. So we're going to hook into that flare," said Tom Hecmanczuk, Director of Construction for Henrico-based Ingenco.

Now, instead of going into the air, the gas will be piped into a new building where it'll be converted into power. All that's missing, are the engines.

The idea was approved in 2009, and construction began this spring. Ingenco is paying for the operation, with the county supplying the natural resource.

"They'll produce the electricity, get paid for it, and then they will give a check to Henrico County for buying the gas from us," Yob said.

The electricity will be sold to the regional grid, and consumed by many of the homes that are located near the landfill. The operation is expected to be up and running within two months, and once the engines are going the flare will be extinguished.

The plant is expected to generate at least three megawatts of continuous electricity, enough to power a few thousand homes. Henrico expects to earn at least $200,000 by selling the methane gas.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.