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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Run Cars on Trash and Corn: Rube Goldberg Lives!

Poet Ethanol, the City of Sioux Falls, and even the Environmental Protection Agency were down in the dump yesterday... for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate Poet's latest innovative source of power for its ethanol plants: methane from the Sioux Falls Landfill.

All that stuff we throw away generates methane, which usually just escapes into the atmosphere. Figuring we might as well use that methane for something, the City of Sioux Falls spent $4.3 million to capture that methane and pipe it ten miles down to Chancellor, where Poet will use the methane to provide up to 90% of the power needed to run its ethanol plant there (same plant where Poet has adopted pallet power!). The landfill-methane pipeline will cost the city $300K a year to operate... and in return, Poet will pay the city $1.8 million for the methane. Mayor Munson likes that:

(Hey, Madison neighbors: anyone want to go in with me on a bigger compost bin... and some pipe to run to Wentworth?)

The Environmental Protection Agency is a partner in this project (don't tell me the EPA never does anything good). Washington sent Swarupa Ganguli, Midwest coordinator for EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program, to congratulate Poet and the city. She noted that this project, one of only three such landfill–ethanol operations in the country, removes 27,000 cars' worth of greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere.

It's not quite Doc Brown's Mr. Fusion powering your car with trash, but it's a step in that direction. It feels a little Rube Goldberg—capture methane from trash, pipe it to run a factory that turns cattle feed into car fuel—but it shows that if we take a little creativity, a little engineering, and a lot of trash, we can produce our own power.

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