Turning Trash Into Energy

Russell Nanod
Russell Nanod
Willie Gomez
Willie Gomez

(KHNL) - Every year on O'ahu, about 1.6 million tons of trash are generated. But what happens as landfills fill up? A new program turns rubbish into power and keep landfills operating.

Waimanalo Gulch spans about 200 acres. About a hundred of that is used as a landfill. Right now, trash gets compressed and then burned off. But soon some of it will be converted to usable energy.

A giant compactor crushes tons of trash every day.

"Here at Waimanalo Gulch, we take in about 400,000 to 450,000 tons of trash per year," said Russell Nanod, community affairs manager at Waste Management Hawai'i. "So over the 16 years that Waimanalo Gulch has opened, we've accumulated nearly 6 million tons of trash here."

But as trash sits on this landfill, it turns into something else.

"When trash decomposes, essentially they begin to break down," said Nanod. "Methane is one of the primary components in terms of gas."

Instead of letting the gas escape into the air, gas wells catch it and send it to a central location. From there, it goes through a complex process where the gas is converted.

"We would knock the water out first so we could add just gas," said Willie Gomez, a gas technician. "We would compress it, push it into the generator, which would make energy."

Energy that will power homes right here on O'ahu.

"We're at the point where we have enough gas to turn a generator to create enough electricity for a thousand homes," said Nanod.

The conversion of trash, into methane, into power begins here the middle of next year. If this catches on, it could reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

"Across the nation, however, the 400,000 homes we provide electrical power for, we'll save over 70 million barrels of fuel every year," said Nanod.

Saving that could mean lower electric bills and lower prices at the pump.

Waste management operates the landfill. It has signed a contract with Hawaiian Electric to build the generation plant.

If this all works they could build additional generators both at Waimanalo and at other Hawai'i landfills.