Flaring Potential

FlexEnergy illustrates growth in global biomass energy capacity that may reach 83.1 GW by 2017
By Luke Geiver | January 25, 2012

For Mike Levin, flaring methane is at best a huge waste, and at worst a lost opportunity. Levin, the director of government affairs for FlexEnergy, the recent startup turned major biogas technology provider, is helping lead FlexEnergy’s charge toward landfill gas-to-energy applications. If a recent Global Industry Analysis report detailing the potential for biomass and waste-to-energy is any indication, Levin and his team at FlexEnergy are heading in the right direction.

According to the GIA report, global installed capacity of biomass and waste-to-energy plants was roughly 61.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2011, but by 2017, the global installed capacity will reach 83.1 GW. North America, according to the report, which used source feeds from market participants from solid waste management service providers to power generation companies, offers the largest market for biomass and waste-to-energy at 13.8 GW of installed capacity in 2011.

FlexEnergy has already entered the waste-to-energy market in the U.S., and the Irvine, Calif.-based company provides a great example for other waste-to-energy companies that have expansion strategies. The team is using its FP250 turbine, a technology that combines electricity generation from a micro turbine with a thermal oxidizer, at a Santiago Canyon landfill site in California that has been closed since 1988. The site has been flaring methane for more than 20 years, Levin says, because the percentage concentration of methane was too low to run an engine or a turbine.

The FlexEnergy system not only cuts down pollutants to nearly zero, but also uses the heat in the oxidizer to power the turbine. While a typical turbine requires 30 to 40 percent methane, the FlexEnergy technology can create electricity using a much lower percentage.

“If all goes as planned, we are actually going to shut the flare off,” Levin says of the work at Santiago Canyon. “We are going to take all of the methane that is there and put it into eight FP250 systems for 2 MW of electricity generation.” That is enough electricity to power 1500 homes. “Our hope is that we can do what we are doing, where we shut the flare off, throughout California and eventually throughout the country,” he adds.

Those hopes might not be hard to fulfill. The FlexEnergy team has former U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on the board of directors, and a New Hampshire manufacturing facility that is already planning an expansion.

The GIA report acts as a back-up reminder that there is an opportunity for several FlexEnergy types to shut off the flare.

—Luke Geiver