Powered by garbage

Today’s garbage will provide a local source of energy to power truck and bus fleets for decades to come, Rogue Waste Systems CEO Stephen Gambee told a Chamber Forum audience Monday.

“We envision a future that’s powered by garbage,” Gambee said. “Like a lot of the projects we’ve tackled over the years, it’s an ambitious long-term endeavor.”

The first step toward the future Gambee envisions was taken in 2001 when Rogue Waste, parent company of Rogue Disposal & Recycling, began work toward energy independence and a new level of air quality, Gambee said during a monthly gathering at Rogue Valley Country Club. In its simplest form, methane gas produced from decomposition of organic matter at the Dry Creek Landfill is used to power the trucks picking up curbside garbage and recycling containers.

The result, he said, is creation of a closed-loop solid waste collection system, the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

“I am not kidding when I say the apple peels, leftover cake and half-eaten peanut butter and banana sandwiches from last week’s kindergarten birthday party will someday power our trucks to return to your neighborhood to pick up your garbage and recyclables.”

The first of three phases is converting Rogue’s diesel fleet to compressed natural gas. The first such CNG-powered truck was purchased in 2011, and the conversion is expected to be completed by 2023. The second phase centers around a public CNG fueling station built in White City.

The final phase, still down the road, he said, is developing a facility at Dry Creek to convert landfill gas to pipeline standard renewable natural gas, or RNG. Renewable natural gas is methane extracted from landfill gas generated from decomposition of waste from the landfill.

“Anything that utilizes natural gas, including homes, businesses and vehicles, can also use RNG,” Gambee said. “Since renewable natural gas is up to 70 percent cleaner than gasoline and diesel, it’s an environmentally responsible choice for fleets that run on any kind of natural gas.”

RNG differs from CNG in that renewable natural gas is considered a bio gas because it originates from a biological process rather than a carbon fuel source.

“Landfill CNG has about the lowest carbon intensity of any fleet source available,” Gambee said.

The scale of Rogue Waste’s project has regional ramifications, he said. Both in BTU production and diesel gallon equivalents, Dry Creek presently has the potential to produce 2 million diesel-equivalent gallons, rising to 8 million by 2040.

Rogue Disposal’s current fleet annually uses 350,000 gallons of diesel, while Rogue Valley Transportation District consumes about 200,000 gallons.

“Dry Creek Landfill has a projected operational life of at least 100 years,” Gambee said. “Even after the last load of waste goes into Dry Creek sometime after the year 2118, the landfill will continue to produce fuel for another 30 years.”

Gambee suggested the local fuel source will go a long way in providing fuel for emergency services during a natural disaster. In the event of a major earthquake disrupting road and pipeline networks, he said, Dry Creek could be a critical local source of energy for health care facilities, first responders, and for powering equipment helping recovery and cleanup efforts.

Gambee was joined by two Rogue Waste employees — Laura Leebrick, community and governmental affairs manager, and Garry Penning, government affairs marketing director — at the podium, as well as Kristan Mitchell of the Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association.

Asked about food waste recycling, Leebrick noted there is more than meets the eye in such efforts.

“Food waste collection is tricky,” she said. “It requires additional trucks, additional containers, a massive educational campaign to keep contaminants out.”

A food waste project in the Portland area got off to a rocky start, she said.

“A lot of communities that have been thinking about going that direction have put those plans on hold for now,” Leebrick said. “Because we’re looking at new regulations coming down the pike that are going to regulate methane omissions off more than just landfills; it will complicate food waste processing. It’s a problematic material, but not if it’s managed properly.”

Penning said it would be costly to build a food-waste digester.

“Our landfill is a digester in itself,” Penning said. “The EPA estimates we capture at least 80 percent of all the methane that comes off the landfill, so we actually have a digester here in Southern Oregon.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or

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