Web-based monitoring of gas emissions from landfill sites using autonomous sensing platforms
Collins, Fiachra and Fay, Cormac and McNamara, Eoghan and Orpen, Dylan and Diamond, Dermot (2014) Web-based monitoring of gas emissions from landfill sites using autonomous sensing platforms. Technical Report. Environmental Protection Agency. ISBN 978-1-84095-537-8
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Numerous initiatives that are policy driven by national, European and global agencies target the preservation of our environment, human society’s health and our ecology. Ireland’s EPA 2020 Vision outlines a mandate to prepare for the unavoidable impact of climate change, the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the control of air-emissions standards, the sustainable use of resources and the holding to account of those who flout environmental laws. These strategies are echoed in the Europe 2020: Resource-efficient Europe Flagship Initiative, which also advocates the creation of new opportunities for economic growth and greater innovation. The promotion of research and technical development is central to each of these strategies – specifically the achievement of accurate environmental monitoring technologies that will inform policy-makers and effect change. This is described in the EPA Strategic Plan 2013–2015 as the provision of ‘high quality, targeted and timely environmental data, information and assessment to inform decision making at all levels’. Specific to landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Focus on Landfilling in Ireland stipulates the management of landfill gas to eliminate environmental harm and public nuisance, to promote energy generation where possible and to avoid liabilities in site closure and aftercare. It was in this context that the EPA STRIVE programme granted funding for this research project on developing autonomous sensor platforms for the real-time monitoring of gases generated in landfill facilities.
Managing landfill gas is one of the crucial operations in a landfill facility, where gases (primarily methane [CH4] and carbon dioxide [CO2] generated from the decomposition of biodegradable waste) are extracted and combusted in a flare or preferably an engine (as biogas fuel). These gases, classified as greenhouse gases (GHGs), also pose localised hazards due to fire risk and asphyxiation, and are indicative of odorous nuisance compounds. Gas-monitoring on site is conducted to (i) ensure against gas migration into the local environment and to (ii) maintain the thorough gas extraction and optimum composition for combustion. This is becoming more relevant because of the numerous landfill closures
brought by Europe-wide changes in waste-management policy. Even for landfills no longer actively receiving waste, substantial gas generation remains ongoing for years and even decades. Despite diminished financial resources and reduced manpower, management of this gas must be maintained.
Traditionally, monitoring involves taking manual measurements using expensive handheld equipment and requiring laborious travel over difficult and expansive terrain. Consequently, it is conducted relatively infrequently – typically once a month. These issues can be addressed by adopting distributed continuous monitoring systems. These low-cost remotely deployable sensor platforms offer a valuable complementary service to operators and the EPA. They enable easier adherence to their licence criteria, the prevention of expensive remediation measures and the potential boost in revenue from increasing energy production through the use of biogas. Challenges arise in terms of achieving a long-term monitoring performance in a harsh environment while maintaining accuracy, reliability and cost-effectiveness.
To meet these challenges, this project developed cost- effective autonomous sensor platforms to allow long- term continuous monitoring of gas composition (methane and carbon dioxide) and extraction pressure. The project’s work represents one of the only developments of autonomous sensor technology in this space; the few other market alternatives tend to be expensive or difficult to implement for remotely deployable continuous monitoring. Beyond the development of a platform technology, the challenge was to apply this technology to the adverse environmental conditions.
The project delivered a total of 14 autonomous sensor platforms in deployments involving Irish landfill sites, a Scottish landfill site and a Brazilian wastewater treatment plant. The analysis and interpretation of acquired data, coupled with local meteorological data and on-site operational data, provided the translation from raw environmental data to meaningful conclusions that could inform decision-making. This report presents a number of case studies to illustrate this. Characteristics of site gas dynamics could be identified; for example, it was possible to show if excessive gas concentrations in a perimeter well could be resolved by increasing the flare extraction rate for a particular well. Furthermore, the potential for quantifying methane generation potential at distributed locations within the landfill was identified in addition to diagnosing the effectiveness of the extraction network – hence aiding in field-balancing and landfill gas utilisation.
The extensive wealth of data enabled by this platform technology will help better-informed decision-making and improve operational practices in managing gas emissions. In landfills, this signifies alleviating gas migration with perimeter monitoring and enhancing flare/ engine operation by evaluating gas quality at distributed locations within the gas field. While landfilling is becoming outmoded as a waste-management process, the need for continuous monitoring will be relevant for many years to come. Indeed, a number of existing facilities are considering retrofitting engines because of the significant potential for additional landfill gas utilisation being identified by Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland in 2010. Furthermore, the technology’s low-cost and autonomous nature would benefit the hundreds of historical and legacy landfills if any were deemed to be problematic in terms of their environmental impact. Beyond landfills, this work pertains to other applications within the waste sector, as demonstrated by measuring emissions from wastewater treatment plant lagoons. With some further development, this technology could apply to efforts in dealing with climate change (e.g. in evaluating GHG inventories), where applications include managed peatlands (one case study is presented in this report and future efforts could also be targeted at carbon sinks/storage) and agriculture (Ireland’s greatest contributor to GHGs). Further scope could also be pursued in air-quality monitoring, particularly relevant at present with 2013 being dubbed the ‘Year of Air’ by European leaders.
Throughout this project, the commercial prospect of this technology was affirmed with positive feedback from landfill operators, environmental regulators and private consultancies. Continual technical developments and refinements in mechanical/electronic design delivered a platform with expanded functionality and reduced price-point, thus becoming more viable for scaled-up deployments and commercial feasibility. Ultimately, this innovative development shows good promise as a high-potential commercial venture, with this work continuing under Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.
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