Contact: Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-2106; or Dave Newell, (785) 864-2183

KU scientists to study if Johnson County trash can increase natural gas production

LAWRENCE -- The gas that comes off landfills is usually viewed as a smelly nuisance.

But scientists at the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas are hoping to test whether gas generated from trash at the Johnson County landfill can be used to produce more natural gas from coal seams several hundred feet underground.

Deffenbaugh Industries, which operates the Johnson County landfill in northwestern Johnson County, and its business partner Kansas City LFG capture the gas produced by decomposing garbage. Methane is separated from the landfill gas, cleaned and put into a pipeline where it is shipped to be used for home heating, industry and other purposes.

About 4.5 million cubic feet of gas is collected through wells in the Johnson County landfill each day. About half of that gas is methane; the rest is largely carbon dioxide and other waste gases.

Survey scientists hope to determine whether the nonmethane gases coming off the Johnson County landfill can be pumped underground to force natural gas from subsurface layers of coal, thus generating additional energy.

"We want to see if we can put landfill gases to work," said Survey geologist Dave Newell.

The Kansas coal beds, which underlie much of the eastern third of the state, contain methane. Drilling for this gas has boomed recently because of the high price of natural gas and the relatively low cost of drilling those wells in Kansas.

Now scientists want to see if landfill gas might be used to push coalbed methane out of coal seams beneath a landfill.

"Many landfills in the U.S. overlie coal beds, and they may be able to use those gases instead of wasting them by flaring the gas or venting it into the atmosphere," Newell said.

Beginning in mid-October, the Survey will drill two wells, each about 900 feet deep, at the Johnson County landfill. Survey drillers will recover cores of the rock encountered during drilling, including samples of the coal beds.

The samples will be sent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where they will be tested by exposing them to the same kinds of gases and underground pressures produced at the landfill.

"We want to see how much the coal swells during this testing," said Newell. "This swelling reduces the amount of methane the coal can produce. We also want to see how much of the coalbed gas the coal will give off as it absorbs the landfill gas."

If the process is effective, the next step may be a small demonstration project.

The Survey study is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.


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