You can’t get much more alternative energy than tip mining. LGI estimates that there are hundreds of methane-producing tips across the country. (Note for American readers: a “tip” refers to a landfill in this case.) Many of these are in regional areas without systems to capture and destroy those emissions. It is their aim to reduce emissions, and on some sites, at the same time, to create electricity — running a profitable business by capturing and destroying that harmful methane and putting it to good use.
When the local Queensland branch of the Tesla Owners Club of Australia asked me to suggest an alternative energy site, it was obvious we had to do a dump run. I have written previously about the work of LGI and wanted to open members’ eyes to the alternative energy available other than solar and wind. You can read more about this here and here.
We formed up at the Bracken Ridge Tavern, Brisbane, and made the short drive to the Bunya Biogas to Renewable Power Project. Katrina Nelson, Business Development Manager at LGI, introduced the more than 20 Tesla owners to the LGI facility, and Matthew Tap, project manager, explained the complicated machinery that surrounded us. LGI’s goal is to save the planet one landfill at a time.
Matthew and I sat down later for an informal interview about the ongoing work of LGI. I asked him what has changed in the last 12 months for LGI. Possibly the most significant event is that that LGI is now listed on the ASX. The listing brings much needed capital to expand the projects in the pipeline. He explains that LGI is in a capex-heavy industry. Initially listing at $1.50 per share, its current value is 30% higher. The market has confidence in LGI’s business plan. As my Yorkshire grandmother would say, “where there’s muck, there’s brass.” LGI can help local government authorities (councils) create an income stream from their landfill sites. Everybody wins.
“LGI has a string of projects at various stages of implementation,” Matthew tells me. One example is the Canberra (Australian Capital Territory) Mugga Lane Facility. Development is underway to expand the current 4 MW generation facility and add battery storage. LGI has discovered greater potential gas flows and invested the capital to harvest the gas. This will mean more emissions abatement and more carbon credits. Providing dispatchable power when the grid needs it will reduce dependence on non-renewable power generation during the high-demand period in the evening. It is another way to put the duck to sleep.
A new site is being developed at Nowra on the New South Wales south coast. The site currently has the capacity to flare at the rate of approximately 1500 cubic metres of gas per hour. LGI is in the process of proving that gas volumes from the landfill can sustain a generator. It is possible that this rate of gas flow could provide 2 MW of capacity. LGI has to answer these questions still: What is the possible/realistic generation available? What size of network connection is available? Then they need to optimize the investment.
Some readers of previous articles have expressed concern about burning the methane in this way. Katrina comments: “LGI is burning the methane to abate carbon (through combustion to convert the methane to CO2, which is a 28 times less harmful greenhouse gas). In large sites this is done in a power station to produce renewable electricity and on smaller sites combustion is with a flare.”
The LGI project in Toowoomba is a little different. The power generated is used by the Toowoomba Regional Council to run its Wetalla Water Reclamation Facility (aka wastewater treatment plant). Matthew tells me that LGI had to innovate and learned a lot in the process. Directional drilling under the railway line was required for LGI to run the gas pipeline from the landfill to the power plant built next to the water treatment plant. Power is then provided “behind the meter” to the Wetalla Water Reclamation Facility, offsetting ~90% of the site’s load. Excess generation is supplied into the local distribution network. The power station heavily reduces the stress on the local electricity grid by decreasing demand on the grid from the council’s water treatment plant.
Katrina and Matthew were pleased to see so many Teslas, and their drivers, attend the Bunya site visit. Sometimes people are put off by the yuck factor (I must admit, we advertised this as a mystery drive and didn’t tell people we were going to a tip until we had formed up at the BRT). Katrina explained that tips can get quite smelly if not managed properly.
The City of Moreton Bay is an example of a progressive council, which although not mandated to, has elected to make beneficial use of the harmful waste gas produced by their landfill. Methane can cause health and environmental harm — it can migrate to other areas, can potentially cause health issues, and can be an ignition source in a worst-case scenario. LGI’s active biogas management systems provide a path of least resistance, by capturing and drawing the gas into a single control point and from there into a power plant, or on smaller sites to a flare to be combusted. The combustion destroys the methane permanently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and on sites like Bunya, also produces dispatchable renewable power which is available 24/7.
The Bunya site was “in the middle of nowhere” when first established, but Brisbane has grown out to it and it is now surrounded by houses. It is still a working site, and rubbish trucks were unloading as Katrina spoke. LGI is “mining” or capturing gas in the older and newer sections of the tip. Gas is pulled out with suction, put through a purification process using conditioning equipment, measured, then put into the generator. All equipment is modular, housed in 40-foot shipping containers or using the base of the container as a skid. Making it modular makes it easy to scale up and down when necessary.
The Bunya site has one generator and will trial a big Tesla battery when it is fully commissioned. Matthew described this as an 18-month work in progress soon to come to fruition. Final connection is awaiting approval from Energy Queensland, which operates the distribution power grid which the project supplies renewable energy into. Bunya is the pilot project for the installation of future hybrid power plants. Solar is under consideration if space permits at each site. “It is always value to have other sorts of power generation.”
Matthew explained the value of having the Tesla Megapack as part of the system: The Tesla battery gives rapid response to market needs. It exists on the network and can supply power when and where it is needed based on power pricing. The National Electricity Market (NEM) operates in 5-minute intervals. It’s economics 101 — supply and demand. High prices are achieved in the evenings, since as the sun sets, there is less input from solar. A waste-powered gas flexor can produce 24/7. LGI is incentivized to produce power for higher prices. The response to the NEM pricing is managed by internally produced propriety software — called DACS (Dynamic Asset Control System). Every 5 minutes, DACS optimizes the fleet of generators based on prices and possible future prices.
“The landfill at the council’s waste management centre is like a sponge,” Matthew elaborates. “On some landfills like this one we can let the field rest during the day by reducing output. When the price is right, we can squeeze additional gas out in the evening. We can manage the gas at the level it is needed.” (Graphic below.)
The battery is described as an adaptive asset. LGI can make money by using in it in as many ways as possible — arbitrage trading (spot price differentials), as a FCAS for grid stability, and for network support.
There are currently no plans to put EV chargers at the Bunya site. This might change as more councils move towards electrifying their fleets of garbage trucks and support vehicles. Katrina explains: “Not all landfill sites will be suitable for EV charging locations for public access. However, locations being considered for EV charging are at waste management centres where the Council fleet could use the electricity or on sites adjacent to major highways where the power station is sufficiently distant from the landfill and in a location where a rest stop (park and amenities) could be installed. These sites in the early planning stages and until that time the energy is supplied into the grid to increase the available of renewable energy in the system for all to use.”
LGI has a pipeline of projects all at different stages of development. They are working with local governments to reduce emissions while delivering savings, and for some, these are income streams for councils and their communities. Alternative energy is beneficial to all.
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