Philippines turns trash into clean energy windfall

Mar 27, 2013 by Karl Malakunas
Scavengers collect recyclable materials at a temporary landfill in Payatas village, Quezon City, March 5, 2013. The Payatas dumpsite is Manila's largest landfill, which was the first in the country to have its methane gas converted into power as part of a United Nations' programme aimed at tackling climate change.

Teresita Mabignay does her ironing using free electricity on the slope of a garbage dump, an unlikely beneficiary of efforts to turn the Philippines' growing rubbish problems into a clean-energy windfall.

Mabignay lives at the base of one of Manila's largest , which was the first in the country to have its converted into power as part of a United Nations' programme aimed at tackling climate change.

Decomposing rubbish produces methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming, and turning it into electricity saves it from rising up into the atmosphere while reducing the need to burn .

The methane is captured with pipes that are dug into the landfill, similar to wells that extract gas from under the ground or ocean. Methane is then sucked down to a power station at the bottom of the dumpsite and pumped into generators to make electricity.

For the past few years Mabignay and other housewives from the slum community at the bottom of the Payatas landfill have been given free access to the power at a hall built at the dumpsite.

"It really helps because it cuts down on our ... sometimes we use the savings to buy food," said Mabignay, 50, whose husband earns the equivalent of about $200 a month working as a at the dumpsite.

The company behind the project, Pangea Philippines, could afford to be generous with its electricity as it was earning hundreds of thousands dollars to capture and convert the gas.

Under the UN programme, industrialised countries can meet their commitments to cut greenhouse gas output by funding projects that reduce emissions in such as the Philippines.

Companies in developing countries earn credits for reducing emissions, each equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide. The credits are then sold to companies, institutions or governments in to offset their emissions.

A worker inspects gas wells erected at the top of a dump site in Payatas village, Quezon City, February 21, 2013. The pipes collect the methane gas created by decomposing rubbish, which is then converted into power.

Pangea president Jennifer Fernan Campos said the Payatas energy project was set up to take advantage of the UN scheme, with the first kilowatts generated in 2008.

"We are also very gratified to be helping the environment and the community. In our own little way we are mitigating greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

Thousands of renewable energy projects in developing countries have been registered under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism since it began in 2005, including wind farms, solar stations and hydropower dams.

There have also been many waste-to-energy projects, with four others in the Philippines starting up after the pioneering Pangea operation, according to industry website www.cdmpipeline.org.

However the market price for each tonne of that companies save started dropping sharply in 2010, partly because of the economic meltdown in Europe which was the biggest source of revenues.

"Our rate is a floating one so when the market collapsed, we suffered," Fernan Campos said, explaining they made the mistake of not locking in a higher price when they had the chance.

Industry experts have warned the carbon trading scheme is in danger because of the collapse in prices, and many clean-energy projects face an uncertain future.

However Fernan Campos said the Payatas project had become commercially viable without the UN-channelled money.

A scavenger carries recyclable materials at a temporary landfill in Payatas village, Quezon City, March 1, 2013. Decomposing rubbish produces methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming, and turning it into electricity saves it from rising up into the atmosphere while reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.

She said Pangea this month expanded capacity from 200 kilowatts to one megawatt, and began selling directly onto Manila's electricity grid.

Previously the electricity generated at Payatas had just been used to power operations at the landfill and for the nearby slum communities via the ironing project and neighbourhood street lights.

The amount of that are now being saved at Payatas is the equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off Manila's roads, according to Fernan Campos.

She said the project had a host of other environmental benefits, including less direct air pollution for people living close by. The extracted methane gas could also no longer contaminate the water system.

Nevertheless, Greenpeace and some other environment groups oppose waste-to-energy projects, arguing their green credentials are often exaggerated and that they create a financial incentive for more rubbish to be dumped.

"The only way to address the issue of methane generation from waste is to stop the rubbish going to the landfill in the first place," Greenpeace Philippines programme manager Beau Baconguis said.

"Having such projects in place encourages the generation of waste, rather than eliminating it, because you need waste to run the facility."

Baconguis said there was no vision from the Philippine government to reduce waste, and that Manila's roughly 12 million residents were producing between 6,000 and 8,000 tonnes of rubbish every day.

However Fernan Campos insisted Pangea was not lobbying for, or encouraging, more waste to be dumped at Payatas.

She said the local government had implemented recycling and other waste-reduction policies in recent years that had seen the amount of rubbish going into the landfill drop from 1,800 tonnes a day to 1,200.

"We are just clearing whatever is there, and helping the environment at the same time," she said.

Explore further: Morocco raises 1.7 bn euros for solar plants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Estimating landfill gas potential

May 26, 2011

Research suggests that landfill gas-recovery projects should be implemented quickly if the maximum amount of methane gas is to be retrieved from organic waste in as short as time as possible, according to a study published ...

Projects across U.S. turn landfill gas into energy

Feb 25, 2010

More U.S. communities are turning trash into power. Nationwide, the number of landfill gas projects, which convert methane gas emitted from decomposing garbage into power, jumped from 399 in 2005 to 519 last year, according ...

Methane from microbes: a fuel for the future

Dec 10, 2007

Microbes could provide a clean, renewable energy source and use up carbon dioxide in the process, suggested Dr James Chong at a Science Media Centre press briefing today.

Hog waste producing electricity and carbon offsets

Sep 08, 2011

A pilot waste-to-energy system constructed by Duke University and Duke Energy this week garnered the endorsement of Google Inc., which invests in high-quality carbon offsets from across the nation to fulfill ...

Recommended for you

The state of shale

18 hours ago

University of Pittsburgh researchers have shared their findings from three studies related to shale gas in a recent special issue of the journal Energy Technology, edited by Götz Veser, the Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of Che ...

Website shines light on renewable energy resources

Dec 18, 2014

A team from the University of Arizona and eight southwestern electric utility companies have built a pioneering web portal that provides insight into renewable energy sources and how they contribute to the ...

Better software cuts computer energy use

Dec 18, 2014

An EU research project is developing tools to help software engineers create energy-efficient code, which could reduce electricity consumption at data centres by up to 50% and improve battery life in smart ...

Cook farm waste into energy

Dec 17, 2014

It takes some cooking, but turning farm waste into biofuels is now possible and makes economic sense, according to preliminary research from the University of Guelph.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.