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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Fuels & Renewable Energy

Waste Conversion Energy Programs in Solid Waste

Waste is a big deal. Solving the problem of waste with recycling, recovery and conversion is a solution being handled and innovated by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles a big way.

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Gas-to-Energy Facilities

Biogas is generated during the decomposition of organic material buried in a landfill; the Sanitation Districts collect and use the biogas to generate electricity. At the Puente Hills Landfill near Whittier, 50 MW of electricity, enough to power 70,000 Southern California homes, is generated at the Gas-to-Energy Facility and sold to the local power grid. An additional 8 MW is generated by the second phase of this facility and utilized by the Sanitation Districts’ nearby San Jose Creek Water Reclamation Plant. Similar Gas-to-Energy Facilities have been built at the Palos Verdes and Spadra Landfills, generating 3 MW and 8 MW, respectively. The Calabasas Landfill uses microturbines, generating 300 KW of electricity. The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County provide waste management services for 78 cities and surrounding unincorporated areas -- their regional system serves a population larger than that of all but 20 states! That's a lot of waste.

Until we have a society in which "everything" is recycled before it becomes waste -- we need waste conversion programs that reclaim carbon and organic materials as efficiently as possible. Regional systems bring scale to the process and can foster mechanization not available in smaller systems. That can be good...or bad. And that judgment varies with time as new technologies come along.

This is an overview of what this one (very large!) waste recovery system accomplishes to green our urban systems and make a more sustainable community.

A total of 127MW of electricity is generated from wastewater and solid waste operations. About 40 MW is used in powering internal operations; the rest is used to reduce the amount of power produced by utilities.

Southern California Energy Recovery Facilities

The use of waste (solid refuse) as a fuel to produce power reduces our reliance on imported fossil fuels while helping to prolong the remaining landfill capacity in this very urbanized region.

Commerce Refuse-to-Energy Facility

The Commerce Refuse-to-Energy facility located in the City of Commerce, uses controlled combustion to convert refuse to 10 MW of electricity, enough to power approximately 15,000 Southern California homes. Sophisticated air pollution control devices make this facility one of the cleanest of its type in the world, in terms of air emissions.

As the list of recyclables continues to grow and the benefits of recycling become better understood,facilities such as this waste conversion facility will become more discerning about what kinds of refuse is burned to make energy...and what is reused or composted.

Clean Fuels Facility

Biogas is generated during the decomposition of organic material buried in landfills. This gas is harmful both to the environment and to residents near the landfills -- so reclaiming it not only provides health benefits, but produces recycled energy.

In the early 1990s, the Sanitation Districts of LA County developed the first Clean Fuels Facility in the world that produces clean vehicle fuel from landfill gas (compressed landfill gas).

Landfill gas has identical characteristics to clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG). The Clean Fuels Facility, located at the Puente Hills Landfill, produces the equivalent of more than 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel per day. The fuel is used in the smaller vehicles in the landfill fleet.

Natural Gas Fueling Stations

The Sanitation Districts of LA County have begun to form the backbone of a clean fuel infrastructure in their service area with the construction of CNG fueling stations at the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant (JWPCP) and the Puente Hills Landfill.

The Sanitation Districts’ goal is to replace gasoline and diesel powered vehicles, as they reach the end of their useful lives, with clean burning CNG vehicles.

CNG vehicles emit 90% less carbon monoxide, 60% less particulate matter, 50% less oxides of nitrogen, and 20% less greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) than equivalent diesel vehicles.

In addition, the Sanitation Districts are providing a public service to the community by allowing public access to the fueling station at the JWPCP 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The Sanitation Districts have also built the Puente Hills Liquefied Natural Gas Fueling Facility to provide fueling capability for vehicles and other equipment fueled by liquefied natural gas.


Not all solutions are permanent fixes. Landfills are not a permanent solution to waste -- but we didn't know that early in our "disposable society" era. Now we do, and while the capture of biogas and use of natural gas are improvements, they are transition technologies. It is important that agencies such as the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County -- with their immense responsibilities and resources, continue to innovate for truly sustainable systems that reduce waste at its source, and recycle everything into another generation of usefulness. This strategy will protect our limited natural resources, protect the health and well being of not only humans but all living species...and reduce the impact of pollution and greenhouse gases on our larger environment.

To learn more about the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County and their innovative services to process our dirty little secrets :-), visit their website:

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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