An eagle sits atop a piece of the methane and gas collection system inside the Juniper Ridge Landfill, Jan. 19, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

An operation that would turn the methane released by trash at the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town into pipeline-quality natural gas could heat up to 10,500 homes, but would require the construction of a new pipeline to distribute the fuel.

Archaea Energy has been working to build a facility inside the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill that would turn the methane produced by the decomposing waste into renewable natural gas that it would release into local gas distribution lines. It marks the latest effort to reuse the methane produced at the landfill that its operator, Casella Waste Systems, currently burns off using a flare system.

Bangor Natural Gas, with about 7,000 customers throughout the Bangor area, has been working to strike a deal with Archaea for the last two years so gas from the landfill could flow into the utility’s distribution system.

But the gas company would first have to build a pipeline 1 1/2  to 2 miles long so the gas can travel from the landfill into Bangor Natural Gas’ network, according to Andrew Barrowman, the gas company’s sales and marketing manager.

Renewable natural gas can be used to heat homes but is often also used as a fuel source for vehicles like trucks and buses. 

If constructed, the facility at Juniper Ridge could produce enough gas to heat 10,500 residential homes, according to Shelby Wright, Casella’s eastern region manager of engagement. Bangor Natural Gas currently has about 7,000 customers, which are a mixture of residential customers, businesses and other commercial users, Barrowman said.

The methane the landfill releases is about 50 percent pure, Casella’s Ken Robbins said. However, Archaea can refine the gas and convert it into 99 percent pure methane, which meets pipeline standards, he said.

Archaea has been at work on this project for more than two years.

The company applied for an air emission license from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2019, and the department approved it in 2020. This past summer, the company asked the department to modify the details of its license, extending the time frame during which construction could start.

Two weeks ago, Archaea asked another bureau at the Department of Environmental Protection for its approval to build the renewable natural gas facility at the landfill.

Before this effort, Casella worked from about 2008 to 2014 to sell the methane to the University of Maine to be burned in its steam plant, but the company eventually dropped the project because the price of natural gas had plummeted, meaning it would not be a viable investment.

It then considered setting up a power plant in Old Town that would burn the methane to produce electricity. In 2008, Casella started operating a similar power plant at the now-closed Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden. But based on the price it would fetch for the electricity, Casella ultimately determined that approach wouldn’t work at Juniper Ridge.

In December, Archaea started up the largest renewable natural gas facility in the world at a landfill in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, according to the company’s website.

Once granted full approval from the Department of Environmental Protection, Archaea will have to secure local building permits needed, but is aiming to break ground this spring, with operations beginning next year.

Archaea did not respond to a request for comment.

Avatar photo

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...