A pair of environmental engineers from the United States have developed a method for increase the amount of methane extracted from landfill so that it can be subsequently employed as an alternative source of energy.

Sahadat Hossain and Melanie Sattler, both of whom are associate professors of civil engineering from UT Arlington, are investigating a technique called Enhanced Leachate Recirculation (ELR) to generate methane from what would otherwise just be inert landfill material.

ELR landfills involves the controlled addition of leachate – the water which trickles and permeates landfill, to hasten the process of organic decomposition, in order to generate greater amounts of methane.

A key challenge for ELR so far has been the accurate measurement of moisture movement in landfill matter in order to permit the precise leachate control which the process requires.

Hossain and Sattler believe they have solved this problem by using advanced sensor tools to measure moisture movement during ELR.

Their application of the resistivity imaging method to the monitoring of leachate movement enables landfill managers to know when they need to recirculate water, as well as how effective the process has been, without the need for drilling or other forms of sampling which interfere with the landfill itself.

Hossain has already helped the city of Denton operate the first ELR landfill in Texas, which is now capable of producing enough methane to provide energy to around 3,000 households.

The two environmental engineers also recently won a $300,000 contract from Dallas’s CP&Y engineering firm to enhance the production of methane by the Corpus Christi landfill system.

Hossain and Sattler are spearheading efforts to implement the technology abroad, obtaining a $100,000 grant via the Environmental Protection Agency’s Global Methane Initiative to investigate the feasibility of using landfill gas in the west African nation of Ghana.

“This development has the potential to take the project and technology worldwide,” Hossain said in an official statement. “We already know the system works. We just have to show the EPA and Ghana officials that it’s feasible in that country.”

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, hailed his colleagues’ research into the potential of ELR landfill as an alternative energy source.

“This kind of research, born in the labs of a major, public university, has the potential to help people and cities across the globe,” he said. “Professors Hossain and Sattler are engaged not only in elevating an alternative energy source, they also are shaping technology that appeals to consumers, industry and environmentalists alike.”