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Methane gas from the Orange County landfill will no longer be released into the atmosphere, thanks to the first phase of a joint project launched in November 2010 by the county and the University to turn this greenhouse gas into electricity.

Flaring of the methane gas began Dec. 2, said Ray DuBose, director of UNC Energy Services. Burning off waste methane, which is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, reduces pollution and global warming. The University will gain carbon credits for reducing pollution, which is one strategy in the 2009 Climate Action Plan to reduce UNC’s carbon footprint to zero by 2050.

In the second phase of the project, UNC will pipe the landfill gas to a 1,000-kilowatt power generation system. The original plan was to place the generator on Homestead Road, near the Duke Energy substation, but the University has received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will allow the generator to be located on the Carolina North campus and for the landfill gas pipeline to extend within the new utility corridor on Carolina North by August 2012.

The electricity generated will go back to the grid until the Research Building, the first building to be built on Carolina North, is completed in early 2013. Then exhaust from the generator will be used heat it and eventually other buildings, recycling heat that would otherwise be wasted.

The total emissions reduction as a result of the project is equivalent to any one of the following:

  • Annual greenhouse gas emissions from 8,000 passenger vehicles;
  • Carbon sequestered annually by 9,000 acres of pine forest;
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from burning 200 railcars worth of coal; or
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from 4.7 million gallons of gasoline consumed.

Published December 19, 2011.