From Trash to Cash

Oct. 1, 2009
Innovative Energy Systems produces 60 MW of usable energy from landfill gas with GE Fanuc hardware and software, meeting a global need for cleaner, cost-effective energy sources.

By Elli Holman

• Innovative Energy Systems produces 60 MW of usable energy from landfill gas with GE Fanuc hardware and software, meeting a global need for cleaner, cost-effective energy sources.

In the true spirit of environmental consciousness, GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms’ customer Innovative Energy Systems (IES) has developed a clean energy solution that recovers methane gas from landfills and converts it into electricity as an alternative energy source. The solution uses GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms’ controllers, HMI/SCADA software and operator interface equipment to facilitate processing of the gas and keep the system running efficiently and effectively, providing Innovative Energy with a sustainable, competitive advantage.

GE Fanuc’s QuickPanel is a bundled visualization solution with a combination of bright touch screen displays, multiple communications options and Proficy View software

Landfill Biogas Recovery

IES, based in New York, has nine plants in New York and Vermont, producing over 60 megawatts (MW) of capacity with more than 25 additional megawatts coming online in the next two years. In addition to its own facilities, it also designs and constructs plants using this innovative system for other companies.

An aerial view of greenhouses that grow tomatoes using waste heat as a byproduct of a nearby landfill biogas recovery operation.

“With increasing global demand for more cost-effective, cleaner energy sources, OEMs and energy operators must uncover additional efficiencies to gain and sustain a competitive advantage,” said Maryrose Sylvester, president and CEO of GE Fanuc. “The mix of products used by Innovative Energy Systems is a great example of how GE Fanuc solutions enable control and management of assets in a secure, scalable and integrated environment.”

IES utilizes GE Fanuc controllers on its proprietary gas collection and scrubber unit and other equipment used to collect and process the gas. GE Fanuc’s QuickPanel® View and Proficy® HMI/SCADA - CIMPLICITY monitor kilowatt-hours produced, display engine diagnostics, fuel flow and quality. This solution also provides a gas scrubbing system overview. IES plant managers use the system on a daily basis to monitor the engines and gas scrubbing system. This information allows plant managers insight to complete preventative maintenance, which limits downtime events of the engines. Information includes: generator loading and unloading, alarm history, engine diagnostics including engine hours, oil temp and pressure, jacket water temp and pressure, fuel flow and quality, and exhaust port temperatures.

“We just cannot afford any downtime in our system,” said IES president Peter H. Zeliff. “Just one hour of the system not running could cost up to $20,000. Whatever electricity we generate has to get on the grid in order for us to make money as it is sold on the day ahead market. The GE Fanuc system has proved to be very reliable and have helped us to maintain an online availability of 98% or more.”

GE Fanuc controllers and I/O systems span the range of automation needs and are designed to meet the demand for versatile industrial solutions and are used in high speed packaging, material handling, complex motion control, water treatment, continuous emissions monitoring, mining, food processing, elevator control, and injection molding.

In addition, landfill leachate wastewater can also be treated to recover the water for other uses.

The QuickPanel View bundled visualization solution provides the tools IES required with a combination of bright touch screen displays, multiple communications options, and Proficy View - Machine Edition software. Acting as the bridge between the enterprise system and the plant floor, QuickPanel View is providing information, not just data, that the operators need to run the machines, and that management needs to run the business. It’s built on the Microsoft Windows CE operating system and features web server access to data and panels using any standard browser. And, the client/server based visualization and control solution that helps visualize operations, perform supervisory automation and deliver reliable information to higher-level analytic applications is CIMPLICITY. With the latest features of CIMPLICITY 8.0, including a powerful graphics engine, dynamic time handling and digital graphical replay (DGR) 2.0, operators and engineers have the power and security to precisely monitor and control every aspect of their environment, equipment and resources. The results: faster response, reduced costs and increased profitability.

Something from Nothing

Landfill gases are colorless vapors produced at solid waste landfills where trash and garbage are buried in the ground and covered with dirt. Over time, water and bacteria in the soils breaks down organic wastes in the landfill. The byproduct of these bacteria breaking down the garbage will produce gases. The amount and type of landfill gas depends on a number of factors such as the amount of garbage buried, landfill age and depth, and the chemical environment inside the landfill.

Landfill gas consists of methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and a key contributor to global climate change, over 21 times more potent than CO2. Methane also has a short, 10-year, atmospheric life. Because methane is both potent and short-lived, reducing methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills, the U.S.’s second largest source of methane, is one of the best ways to achieve a near-term beneficial impact in mitigating global climate change.

It’s estimated a landfill-gas-to-energy project will capture roughly 60-90% of the methane emitted from the landfill, depending on system design and effectiveness. The gas is collected and conveyed using a system of vertical and horizontal wells and a positive displacement blower to the landfill-gas-to-energy facility. Before the landfill gas going to the internal combustion engines is processed through IES’ gas scrubbing system, which has been designed and developed to provide low maintenance, extended life to the internal combustion engines, the scrubbing system cools the gas and uses a dehydration process to remove particulate and water that otherwise would harm the engines. After the landfill gas is processed through the scrubbing system, it’s delivered to the internal combustion engines where the captured methane is destroyed, converted to water and a much less potent CO2, when the gas is burned to produce electricity. Using methane to produce electricity displaces fossil fuels and avoids CO2 that otherwise would be released. The electricity can then be distributed to the grid except for a small portion channeled back into operations for reuse in the process.

This innovative company is also using the waste heat generated from jacket water and engine exhaust to heat a 12-acre greenhouse facility that produces vine-ripened, hydroponic tomatoes. The heat generated is transferred in continuous loop from heat exchangers at the company’s power plants to the heat exchangers at the greenhouse. Due to the unique way the plants are grown, they have a growth season that lasts eight to nine months, allowing the greenhouse to produce over 6 million pounds of tomatoes annually.


“Innovative Energy Systems is producing a great example of optimizing a waste source to make something we can all use today and tomorrow,” concluded Sylvester. “Their reuse of methane gas to produce electricity has a direct and positive impact on the environment.”

About the Author: Elli Holman is public relations manager for GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Foxboro, MA. With headquarters in Charlottesville, VA, it’s part of GE Enterprise Solutions. A global provider of hardware, software, services and expertise in automation and embedded computing, GE Fanuc is a joint venture of General Electric and FANUC Ltd. of Japan. They announced in August the venture would be dissolved at the end of 2009. Contact: 800-433-2682, [email protected] or

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