$4 million gas-to-energy program to fuel Milliken plant in Inman


Spartanburg County leaders joined with Milliken & Co. and Lockhart Power representatives on Monday to announce the completion of a gas-to-energy program at the county's Wellford landfill off Little Mountain Road.

The $4 million project, which was announced in 2008, has the capacity to produce 61.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year by burning methane extracted from the landfill, officials said.

Under the program, Milliken will buy methane from the county and transport it from the landfill via a 6.1 mile pipeline at the rate of 800 cubic feet per minute to its Dewey plant in Inman. The methane will power three boilers at the plant, and is expected to offset 100 percent of its energy demands for natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Lockhart Power, Milliken's utility subsidiary, will collect excess methane not used by the plant to produce electricity that will go into the local power grid by way of a Caterpillar 3250 engine-generator unit installed near the landfill's main entrance.

The unit's 20-cylinder internal combustion engine, which was humming Monday, can burn enough methane to produce 1,600 kilowatts of electricity — enough to power 1,500 homes.

Officials said the project will benefit the environment by annually reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an amount that would be equal to removing 15,750 passenger vehicles from the road.

"This is a win for everyone in Spartanburg County," said O'Neal Mintz, councilman and chairman of the county's public works commission. "It's a proud day for our community. Everybody understands that we have to have a landfill, but not everybody is thrilled about it. To be able to do something like this, which puts power back into the local grid and lessens the environmental impact, is very special."

Officials said 106 methane collection sites have been installed on 35 acres of the 390-acre landfill.

The landfill, which opened in 1977, has only reached about a third of its 69 million-ton capacity, according to officials.

Although the landfill is expected to close in about 35 years, officials said the rotting garbage will continue to produce methane long after it shutters.

"Hopefully this will be here for another 60 years," said Spartanburg County Councilman Jeff Horton.

Officials said it was financed by more than $2 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, as well as solid waste bonds. They touted the program for the savings that will be realized in the long-run.

"The phrase ‘cost effective and renewable energy' might seem like an oxymoron to some people, but this project proves it is possible," said Bryan Stone, chief operating officer for Lockhart Power. "This project costs far less to build per megawatt of capacity than new nuclear or clean coal, and provides an environmental benefit instead of creating environmental issues. The only problem with this type of project is that there aren't more of them."

Michael Thomas, project engineer for Milliken & Co., said it takes double the volume of methane to produce amount the same amount of energy produced by natural gas. That's a good thing for entities trying to find creative ways to remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

An added environmental benefit is that carbon dioxide and other gases will be eradicated through the combustion process, he said.

"We're really excited about this," Thomas said. "It's going to save everyone in the long run."

The county used SCS Engineers of Charlotte, N.C., to provide design engineering and general construction services for the gas collection system and gas transmission line that transports gas from the landfill to the Dewey plant.

California-based SCS Energy designed the gas treatment system, and designed and constructed the electric generation plant paid for by Lockhart Power.

Methane projects have almost become the status quo for the county in recent years.

In 2003, German automaker BMW began piping gas from Waste Management's Palmetto Landfill in Greer to its U.S. manufacturing plant. The program was updated in 2009 and currently meets about two-thirds of the facility's energy demands.

A partnership announced in 2008 between Greenville Gas Producers LLC and Duke Energy Carolinas LLC resulted in a $5 million methane project at the Enoree Landfill to produce power for homes in Spartanburg.

The Milliken project marks the first time the county has partnered with a privately held company for a gas-to-energy venture. Officials said they hope the program will pave the way for more gas-to-energy projects in the future.

"We can all take pride in this particular project," said John Kellam, director of manufacturing for Milliken & Co, which sends only about 2 percent of its waste to landfills each year. "We're very glad to be here today to celebrate."