Biomass and Alternative Methane Fuel Super ESPCs Helping Federal Facilities Turn Waste into Energy

November 1, 2002

Photo of alternative methane fuels being captured

Alternative methane fuels are being captured from many landfill sites today.

DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory, in collaboration with DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has developed the Biomass and Alternative Methane Fuels (BAMF) resource assessment and database for FEMP. With the BAMF resource assessment, the project team has matched more than 1,000 large Federal facilities with more than 3,500 sources of renewable biomass and alternative methane fuels located nearby. The proximity of these resources make them likely candidates for economically replacing conventional fuels at the identified facilities.

The BAMF Super Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) can help Federal agencies develop and finance projects to take advantage of local renewable resources to cut energy costs and meet Federal goals for increasing the government's use of renewable energy. The assessment has focused on three resources that are expected to be major contributors to Federal BAMF projects—wood waste, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. Continuing studies will include cost analyses and surveys of additional BAMF resources.

Biomass from Wood Wastes and Residues

Photo of landfill site showing the capture of methane fuels

Alternative methane fuels are being captured.

Biomass resources include any organic matter that is available on a renewable basis, including dedicated energy crops and trees; agricultural crops, wastes, and residues; wood wastes and residues; and aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials. Currently biomass waste and residues, rather than virgin biomass, offer the most compelling energy cost savings compared to conventional fuels, because waste products often cost little or nothing, except for transportation, and may even have a negative cost if avoided landfill tipping fees are considered. Waste-to-energy projects can also prevent the destructive environmental effects that agriculture and municipal wastes can have on streams and aquifers.

Huge quantities of wood residues from manufacturing, construction, demolition, and used containers are wasted in landfills and could be used for fuel instead. Wood can be used in many of the same energy applications as coal and has the environmental advantages of producing lower emissions and less ash, and contributing less to global warming than coal.

The BAMF assessment identified 813 large Federal facilities and 2,296 raw wood processors that are within 50 miles of each other—close enough to keep transportation costs reasonably low.

Landfill Gas

Photo of  a landfill site with closeup of alternative methane fuel capture

Landfill site with a closeup of alternative methane fuel capture.

Landfills produce biogas as organic wastes decompose. This gas consists of approximately one-half methane (the primary component of natural gas), approximately one-half carbon dioxide, and a small amount of non-methane organic compounds. Instead of flaring landfill gas or allowing it to escape into the air, it can be captured, converted, and used as an energy source. Capturing and using landfill gas also prevents methane from migrating into the atmosphere, thus reducing associated odors and contributions to air pollution and global climate change.

Using data from EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program, the BAMF resource assessment identified 667 large Federal facilities that have at least one landfill (without an already active landfill gas project) located within 15 miles of 508 unique landfills—within proximity to keep costs for piping landfill gas low enough to make its use economical.

Wastewater Treatment Plants

The anaerobic processes of decomposition that produce biogas can either occur naturally, as in a landfill, or in a controlled environment, such as a biogas plant. Wastewater treatment plant digester systems are airtight containers that maintain optimum conditions for quick decomposition of waste materials. Depending on the composition of the feedstock and system design, digester biogas is typically 50 to 75 percent methane; state-of-the-art systems can produce biogas composed of up to 95 percent methane. Wastewater treatment plants also produce sludge which can be a fuel resource.

Using data obtained from EPA's Water Discharge Permit database, the BAMF resource assessment identified 768 large Federal facilities with at least one wastewater treatment plant located within 15 miles of 1,638 unique wastewater treatment plants.

With the BAMF resource assessment, Federal agencies have a valuable tool to help identify candidate sites for biomass and alternative methane fuel projects. The proximity of BAMF resources to numerous Federal sites enables agencies to tap into the energy- and cost-saving benefits of these renewable resources.

Is there a BAMF Opportunity in Your Backyard? For more information about implementing waste-to-energy projects using the BAMF Super ESPC, please contact your FEMP Regional Office Representative (see list of contacts). For additional information, please contact Christopher Abbuehl, National Program Representative for the BAMF Super ESPC, at 215-656-6995 or; Steve Cooke, BAMF Technical Lead, at 304-285-5437 or; or Danette Delmastro, FEMP BAMF Team Lead, at 202-586-7632 or Also see FEMP's Web site.