In Griffith Park, Los Angeles, an old landfill, Toyon Canyon, is still emitting weak waste gases, despite being closed for 30 years. Rather than flare the waste gases, a new technology – Power Oxidizer, created by Ener-core, based in Irvine, California – is slated to be installed and will turn those waste gases into clean energy.
Ener-core’s technology fills a technical gap in the market for solutions that can use low-energy (low BTU) and highly contaminated gases for energy generation. Most combustion engines and turbines are designed around high- performance combustion chambers that require uncontaminated, high-energy, premium fuels; any power system utilizing a high-grade combustion chamber could never run on the energy levels or levels of contaminants typically emitted by closed landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and other industrial facilities.
Power Oxidation effectively achieves the same task as the combustion chamber of traditional engines and turbines – that is, to generate heat – but without ignition. This is achieved with a large vessel into which the poor quality gas is fed. The low-energy gas is combined with 95-97 percent air, and the temperature and pressure are raised to a point where the gas is naturally
oxidized quickly, creating heat without ignition.
Alain Castro, CEO of Ener-core, says this is the technology’s main unique feature. “This enables us to extract the energy, i.e., heat, out of gas that is difficult to combust. And because there is no ignition, there are negligible (<1 ppm) nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels produced,” he says. “I think we might be one of the lowest NOx emission devices in the world for power generation.”
The technology also almost fully consumes all of the VOCs embedded in the waste gas. “As a combination pollution control system with the benefit of generating useful energy, it is not just destroying the gases but doing something useful with them,” says Castro.
This technology was developed over seven years. Ener-core received a conditional purchase order worth $3.29 million to build, deliver, and install four of its EC-250 EcoStations at the Toyon Canyon Landfill, which closed in 1985. The installaton will allow the site to produce 1 MW of clean power for the next 10 to 15 years.
“Many landfills around the world are generating energy from waste gases through the use of traditional reciprocating engines,” says Castro. "However, the engines usually get decommissioned after the landfill is closed. But poor quality gases continue to be emitted for an additional 60-80 years, and the landfill owners are usually left with no alternative other than to flare those gases.”
Another important data point addresses the quality percentage of useable gas.
“When a landfill is open and operational, we can commonly see gas emissions which are 50-60% methane or higher, which contains more than enough energy density to power a traditional engine or turbine,” says Castro. “Once you close a landfill, it is a matter of time before the methane content will drift below 35-38%, at which time the engines are usually decommissioned.
“Ener-core units can run on gases that have as low as 10% methane content, which makes this an ideal solution for replacing the engines and extending the energy-generating life cycle of the
The Griffith installation is one of Ener- core’s first—there is another in Europe, one at the University of Irvine running as a demonstration site, and a third currently being installed at Santiago Canyon in Southern California.
The company has also finished constructing and is currently finalizing testing on a larger version of its Power Oxidizers. This new version will enable the generation of 1.75 MW of power (seven times larger than current version), and is being installed to produce on-site power from the waste
gases emitted by an ethanol plant in California.
Ideally, Ener-core would be consulted approximately a year before decommissioning the engines at a landfill, in order to begin planning for an installation.
The company is still in its early stages, having just deployed the technology commercially in last two years and is in the marketing phase relying also on word of mouth to garner attention to its
“High-profile projects like the one at Griffith Park are helpful,” says Castro. “Within Los Angeles, Griffith Park is probably the equivalent of Central Park in New York, and the fact that we are able to prevent the park from destroying the waste gases, and instead using these gases to produce useful clean energy, is great for the city of Los Angeles and also a magnificent showcase for our technology.
“We want the global landfill industry to know this technology exists so they can assess their options for after other landfills get closed.”
Ener-Core fields Canadian inquiries about its product on a regular basis and in many industries, and envisions the technology having global reach.
The company recently signed a commercial and manufacturing license agreement with Dresser-Rand (now a Siemens business), granting that company exclusive rights to manufacture Ener-core’s Power Oxidizers within the 1 to 4 MW power capacity range, and to sell the units –integrated with 2 MW KG2 turbine, manufactured by Dresser-Rand – directly to industrial customers.
“We have a unique alternative for the global pollution abatement industry, as our solution enables industries to monetize their waste gases, and hence provides a positive return on investment,” said Castro. “As far as we know, we’re one of a small sub-set of solutions coming onto the market that can enable industrial facilities to generate financial profits while drastically reducing the waste gases that typically contribute to air pollution.”