Out of the 18 Awards for Environmental Excellence given by the office of Gov. Tom Wolf last week, a lone landfill sticks out in the field of environmental groups sharing honors.
Seneca Landfill in Jackson Township, owned by the Vogel family of Vogel Disposal Service, earned Butler County's only award for a fueling station that was built over the past year.
The station converts methane gas generated by decomposing garbage in the landfill into compressed natural gas. Garbage trucks pull up and use the CNG instead of gasoline to fill up their fuel tanks.
“Who would have ever thought that what you put into a landfill you can turn around and fill your truck up with?” asked Ed Vogel, vice president of Vogel Disposal.
Switching 22 garbage trucks from diesel fuel to the compressed gas, according to Seneca Landfill's application for the award, reduces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to planting 13,202 trees.
That's why Randy Russell, one of the garbage truck drivers who uses the station for fuel, said he likes the change.
“It's not leaving a carbon footprint for my kids,” Russell said. “We're taking natural gas off the landfill and turning it into free energy. I'm really proud of it.”
The fuel is collected by vertical well pipes drilled down throughout the landfill. Additionally, horizontal pipes run between the wells, connecting to a processing area where methane gas is separated from carbon dioxide and sent to a compression system. The carbon dioxide is burned off.
The station fuels between 30 and 35 garbage trucks, according to Vogel, and the company is looking to add more. As trucks in the fleet are replaced, Vogel plans on cycling in new ones.
The company also hopes to eventually install a portable fueling system. Gas from the landfill would be gathered into compressed tanks and loaded onto trucks. They'd take it to sites where Vogel's trucks operate and use it as a remote fueling station.
Because Vogel uses a higher compression system in its gas, filling a truck takes only a few minutes. It's comparable to filling a tank with gasoline.
Besides the cleaner system, Vogel said, the program is keeping his fuel costs regular.
He thinks other landfills will likely move in their direction in the future. Some still simply burn the excess fuel, rather than use it to drive.
Dave Smith, landfill general manager, agrees that the system is probably the way of the future in the landfill business.
“Still, a lot of landfills flare off the gas,” Smith said. “But now we actually want the gas so we can clean it and beneficially reuse it, whether it goes into the (compressed natural gas) station or a pipeline for gas to be used to heat homes.”