Southeastern Michigan will have one of the region's largest waste-to-energy projects when a Macomb County landfill adds a new methane-burning electric power plant in January.
The two Waste Management Inc. plants at Pine Tree Acres in Macomb County's Lenox Township will produce 22 megawatts of electricity.
"Trash has become a fuel source," company Vice President Tom Horton told the Detroit Free Press. "There are lots of ideas out there."
Waste Management has 141 landfill gas projects, nine in Michigan. Four of the projects provide power directly to industrial plants, including Ford Motor Co.'s Wayne stamping and assembly plants and General Motors Co.'s Orion assembly plant. Another provides landfill gas to Zeeland Farms to dry soybeans.
Waste Management has invested in a Texas project that uses fermentation to convert trash such as oily pizza boxes into a high-octane fuel, Horton said. An Oregon project is using a different process to create a synthetic liquid gas, also usable as fuel.
Landfill methane has an advantage over other alternative power sources such as wind and solar because of the steady rate of garbage decomposition that produces the gas.
Earlier this month, DTE Energy Co.'s DTE Biomass Energy unit began operating a 3.2-megawatt landfill gas-to-energy plant at the Smith's Creek landfill, owned by St. Clair County. The novel project system injects liquid from septic tanks into the landfill through perforated pipes to speed up decomposition.
DTE has 25 landfill gas-to-energy plants nationwide, including two in Michigan.
As of April, there were about 550 landfill gas projects in 46 states, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It says they generate about 1,700 megawatts of electricity per year. That is about the same as two large coal-fired plants and enough to power 1.7 million homes.