November 1, 2011

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Article

Catching Sunshine

The Elusive Promise of Renewable Energy

Jeff Vanek

November 1, 2011

Labs and Landfills

Some clean, renewable energy can come from some pretty dirty sources. Biomass is material from organic sources—that is, from living or previously living materials. When it comes to biomass, there are several sources of potential fuels that can be used to generate electricity. One is the use of methane gas that is naturally produced in landfills as the materials inside them decompose.

The Trans-Jordan Landfill in South Jordan captures methane gas and uses it as fuel to generate electricity. It has a generating capacity of 4.5 megawatts and supplies power to homes and businesses in Murray City. Another notable operation is at Hill Air Force Base. Methane gas from the nearby Davis County landfill is used to generate electricity for use on the base.

Other potential sources of biomass fuels in Utah are grasses, woody materials, algae and even poultry poop. All these sources are currently being researched. “There is a plentiful supply of potential fuel to be found in the state’s national forests and public lands. Waste wood from beetle kill and pinyon juniper would make an excellent source of biomass fuel,” says Foster Agblevor, a USTAR professor in the Biological Engineering Department at the University of Utah whose research involves turning organic waste into fuels.

Research is also underway to determine how to produce oil from algae on a commercial scale, according to Rob Behunin, the vice president of commercialization and economic development for Utah State University. A large-scale demonstration project is moving forward in Vernal for biofuel production using algae.

Although renewable energy production in Utah seems insignificant today, the number of such projects continues to grow as does the size of them. Research continues to make renewable energy an increasingly viable solution to our energy needs. Not only does the environment benefit from these energy options, but the economy does as well in the form of new, higher-paying jobs and increased tax revenues.

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