Landfills around the world face a growing problem with emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Traditional methods of dealing with this problem (venting and flaring) are inefficient and often harmful to the environment. In addition, existing waste-to-energy solutions are typically only cost-effective for large landfills located near city centers, while smaller or remote landfills have no viable alternatives.
There is now a new solution for reducing methane emissions from landfills: a partnership between landfills and Bitcoin miners to utilize electricity generated from landfill waste for on-site (i.e., off-grid) Bitcoin mining. This partnership could provide a return on investment (ROI) by creating an additional revenue stream and a return on environment (ROE) by reducing emissions. Additionally, this win-win solution offers a variety of other benefits to all parties involved, providing a more economically viable and environmentally responsible way to reduce methane emissions, especially for small or isolated landfills.
A long list of troubles for our landfills
Worldwide, more than 2 billion tons of waste ends up in landfills every year. Some of this waste is organic, and when it breaks down, it releases methane – a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 80 times greater than carbon dioxide within 20 years. Landfills currently account for 11 percent of all global methane emissions. In addition, according to World Bank projections, the amount of global waste could increase by 70 percent to 3.4 billion tons by 2050.
This situation is particularly worrisome in the United States, where municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills account for approximately 14 percent of human methane emissions. In 2021, U.S. municipal solid waste landfills emitted 3.7 million tons of methane into the atmosphere, equivalent to the methane emissions from 66 million gas-fired passenger cars or 79 coal-fired power plants.
To reduce methane emissions, the White House took decisive action in 2021. The administration issued revised standards for landfills that do not have a methane reduction implementation plan and mandated that existing large municipal solid waste landfills in the United States significantly reduce methane emissions. While large landfills are the primary focus of this policy, the high level of interest from regulators could have implications for the landfill industry as a whole. Therefore, all landfills, regardless of size, must adopt effective strategies to reduce methane emissions.
Barriers to Discharge and Flaring Problems: Outdated Approaches to Landfill Methane Management
Historically, landfills have relied on two primary methane management methods: venting and flaring. However, these methods are inefficient, wasteful, and often harmful to the environment.
Due to the lack of gas collection systems, more than 50 percent of U.S. landfills utilize venting techniques that release methane directly into the atmosphere. The main disadvantage of venting is its significant environmental impact, as methane is more efficient than carbon dioxide. In addition, it is a wasteful practice because it fails to utilize the potential energy value of methane.
On the other hand, combustion of methane, or flaring of methane, is considered a more environmentally friendly method than venting. Combustion reduces the global warming potential of methane by converting it into carbon dioxide (another greenhouse gas) and water. However, it is only about 92% efficient. 12 Eight percent of the methane is still released into the atmosphere. Flaring also poses a number of environmental problems for local communities, including air pollution, noise and light interference. In addition, similar to venting, flaring is wasteful because it fails to utilize the energy potential of methane. In fact, due to its adverse impacts, the World Bank has advocated for a complete ban on conventional flaring by 2030. 13 While the proposed ban only applies to the oil and gas industry, it is conceivable that future legislation could include other large methane industries. Emitters.
Limitations on Energy-from-Waste Conversion
Waste-to-energy conversion technologies have shown potential to reduce methane emissions, particularly for large landfills located near urban centers. These sites can convert captured methane into two forms of sustainable energy: 1) electricity, which can be sold to the grid, and 2) renewable natural gas (RNG), which can be distributed through pipelines. While the upfront costs of installing these mitigation systems are high, the potential return on investment could make them worthwhile if capital costs are low.
However, this option has limitations. Although the upfront cost of selling power to the grid is low relative to producing RNG, it is still subject to thin margins and extended interconnection queues. In this case, “interconnection queue” refers to the waiting list for access to the transmission lines needed to move power from the source to the grid. Conversely, refining landfill gas into RNG may be more profitable, but it requires significant capital and involves building new pipelines.
In addition, not all large landfills are located near cities, and the economics of waste-to-energy are often untenable for smaller or remote landfills. The combination of reduced waste volumes and logistical constraints may inhibit their ability to generate profitable returns from energy sales.
As a result of these challenges, the number of landfills converting landfill gas to energy has been declining since 2016.
From Trash to Digital Treasure: A Unique Solution for Bitcoin Mining
This is where Bitcoin mining can step in and provide a practical solution for today’s landfills struggling to economically rationalize the conversion of waste to energy. Bitcoin mining can help even the smallest landfill turn waste into a valuable resource. The solution in turn supports landfill owners in implementing strategies to reduce methane emissions and comply with regulations.
How will this work? The process begins by capturing methane from landfill waste and using it to power generators or microturbines, which in turn power Bitcoin mining equipment. This process converts a former greenhouse gas into a renewable energy source and a revenue stream for the landfill.
Landfill: The process begins in a landfill, where organic waste decomposes and produces methane.
Gas Compression and Conditioning Skid: Captured methane is then sent to a gas compression and conditioning skid. This component is responsible for refining the methane, removing impurities and pressurizing it to the desired level.
Modular Gas Microturbine: The compressed and conditioned methane gas is fed into a modular gas microturbine, which uses the gas to generate electricity.
Containerized Bitcoin Mining Data Center: The electricity generated by the microturbine is used to power a containerized bitcoin mining data center. The data center houses specialized computers (ASICs) designed to protect and process transactions on the Bitcoin network. As a result, once-harmful greenhouse gases are transformed into valuable digital commodities.
But why mine Bitcoin?
It offers unique advantages that no other solution on the market today can provide, especially:
Monetization through Lean Infrastructure: bitcoin mining can monetize methane directly on-site, without the need for costly investments in grid transmission or pipeline connections. This direct approach means rapid deployment and revenue generation. With an additional revenue stream, landfills can invest in other landfill gas generation projects while retaining Bitcoin mining as an offtaker for unsold excess energy.
Limited Involvement of Landfill Owners: By partnering with a large, reputable miner, landfill owners can reap multiple benefits with little additional effort.
Geographic Flexibility: Bitcoin miners can operate anywhere in the world; all they need is an internet connection. This location agnosticism offers even the most remote landfills the opportunity to transform previously neglected sites into valuable energy sources.
Modular Capacity: bitcoin data centers offer a high degree of customizability and scalability to accommodate varying amounts of energy load. This flexibility is ideal for landfills of varying sizes and waste capacities. Almost any landfill, regardless of its size, can conduct bitcoin mining operations to capitalize on its methane emissions.
Portability: Bitcoin data centers can be built in dedicated containers. This configuration provides superior mobility. Mining operations can be migrated to new locations as needed.
Interruptible Operation: Bitcoin miners have the unique advantage of being able to power down and restart quickly in as little as 10 minutes. This feature is ideal for landfills, where gas production can fluctuate depending on variables such as waste volume and composition.
These advantages make Bitcoin mining a mutually beneficial, win-win solution for both parties.
Economically, landfills can build additional revenue streams with minimal infrastructure investment, while Bitcoin miners have access to low-cost renewable energy.
From an environmental perspective, the solution converts harmful greenhouse gases into energy. It reduces emissions from landfills while helping Bitcoin miners reduce their reliance on grid energy. By increasing the sustainable energy mix and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Bitcoin miners could theoretically make their operations CO2 neutral or even negative.
Operationally, landfills can quickly implement effective ways to reduce methane emissions, while bitcoin miners can diversify their energy sources and site locations.