Reducing methane emissions: a new opportunity for energy recovery

Energy recovery facilities contribute to climate change mitigation by helping to divert waste from landfills and by producing partially renewable energy, thus replacing fossil fuels. More waste-to-energy facilities could help to meet the 2035 European target of reducing the amount of landfilled waste to 10% of the current quantity, in terms of weight.

Rafael Guinea, President of Aeversu (Spanish Association of Energy Recovery from Municipal Solid Waste)

One of the most significant results of the recent COP 26 climate Summit, which came to an end on November 12 in Glasgow (Scotland), was an agreement signed by more than 100 countries to achieve a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030.

The agreement, also signed by Spain, includes countries that account for almost half of global methane emissions and has been signed by six of the world’s top 10 emitters of this greenhouse gas: the United States, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mexico and Brazil.

Although for most people the best-known enemy of the climate is undoubtedly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) is a more powerful heat absorber than CO2 and can warm the atmosphere 80 times faster than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere.

Experts believe that at least a quarter of human-induced global warming is caused by methane. It is also believed to be amongst the greenhouse gases whose emissions could be reduced most rapidly and with the most positive effects on the climate. For this reason, any action to reduce methane emissions could have significant benefits in the fight against climate change in the coming decades.

The main source of man-made methane emissions are the oil and gas industry, which accounts for between 35% and 40% of annual emissions, and coal mining.

Waste dumped in landfills is another major source of methane. When bacteria decompose organic matter, different gases are released. It is estimated that these gases have a 40-60% methane content, in addition to carbon dioxide and a small quantity of organic compounds other than methane.

Without going any further afield, the European Space Agency (ESA), through the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission, in combination with commercial high-resolution imagery from GHGSat, has recently detected substantial amounts of methane being released from landfills located alongside each other near the centre of Madrid. What occurs in landfills leads to serious collateral environmental damage.

Published in: Nº84 FuturENVIRO October – November 2021