NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Harnesses the Energy of Landfill Gas

April 30, 2003

Photo of Paul Kaden, Project Manager, Toro Energy, Inc. and Barry Green, Energy Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

(front left to right) Paul Kaden, Project Manager, Toro Energy, Inc. and Barry Green, Energy Manager, NASA Goddard SpaceFlight Center in Goddard's Central Heating Plant Boiler Room with landfill gas pipe to the far right.

Early this year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, became the first Federal facility to heat its facility by burning landfill gas (LFG), a biomass renewable energy, on-site. NASA Goddard is using LFG from nearby Prince George's County's Sandy Hill Landfill in Bowie, Maryland, to fire boilers that produce steam for the Center. The project, the result of several years of coordination and hard work will save NASA Goddard an estimated $350,000 or more annually in energy costs and benefit the environment by minimizing the use of non-renewable energy sources.

The LFG is transported to the Center through a 5-mile pipeline where it is used in place of natural gas and fuel oil. The LFG provides 100 percent of the facility's heating needs 95 percent of the time, with natural gas serving as the back-up fuel to ensure consistency and flame stability.

The project, completed under a utility services contract with Toro Energy, Inc., modified two boilers in NASA Goddard's central heating plant, upgraded the controls system at the powerhouse, installed the pipeline to transport LFG to Goddard, and constructed a gas treatment facility at Sandy Hill Landfill. Under the contract, NASA Goddard is required to purchase 365 billion Btu of LFG annually over 10 years. This is equivalent to 108 gigawatthours toward the Federal renewable energy goal of 2.5 percent of total Federal facility electricity use.

Decomposing trash in landfills naturally and continually produces LFG. Currently, holding approximately 6 million tons of waste, Sandy Hill Landfill has many years of additional landfill receipts. The landfill's gas collection operations have been ongoing at the site for about 14 years with the facility's landfill waste currently generating about 2,300 cubic feet per minute of LFG. Until now, Sandy Hill Landfill operators were capturing the LFG and flaring the gas into the atmosphere, as required under the Clean Air Act. "In addition to NASA Goddard benefitting from the use of the gas, there is the pollution-prevention equivalent of planting 68,000 acres of trees or removing more than 100,000 cars from Maryland's roads," said Barry Green, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Energy Manager. "An added benefit is that NASA Goddard has locked in lower gas rates for the next 10 years, reducing the Center's overhead."

Although this LFG project was financed through a utility services contract, it is a great example of the kind of project that can be implemented under FEMP's new Biomass and Alternative Methane Fuels technology-specific Super Energy Savings Performance Contract.

Along with air quality benefits, the use of LFG reduces greenhouse gas emissions and meets the goals of Executive Order 13123, as well as Executive Order 13134, "Developing and Promoting Biobased Products and Bioenergy," which seeks to stimulate the creation and early adoption of technologies needed to make bioenergy cost-competitive in large markets. "This LFG project offers NASA Goddard a cost-effective, clean-energy alternative that will supply nearly 5 percent of the agency's total facilities energy requirement from a renewable energy source," said Rich Wickman, NASA Energy Coordinator.

"Using LFG complements NASA's commitment to sustainability by preventing pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing energy efficiency, and using renewable energy sources."

For more information, please contact Barry Green of NASA at 301-286-7383 or, or Rich Wickman of NASA at 202-358-1113 or For information about implementing a LFG-to-energy project using FEMP's BAMF technology-specific Super ESPC, see the article on FEMP's BAMF Program. Also see FEMP's web site at for more information about implementing waste-to-energy projects.