Kitchener-Waterloo

Can methane hotspots be better managed at local landfills? New UW study wants to find out

The federal government has found municipal landfills are responsible for about 23 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions — a potent greenhouse gas.

The project is a recipient of Environment and Climate Change Canada's Climate Action and Awareness Fund

Methane emissions are burned at landfills to produce heat or generate electricity. The federal government has found municipal landfills are responsible for about 23 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Decades of biodegradable waste is currently festering in local landfills, creating potent methane emissions — a greenhouse gas.

A new project, led by five professors from the University of Waterloo, is focused on finding a solution to better identify the methane hotspots found across the region in local landfills and wetlands.

Laura Hug, the university's Canada Research Chair in Environmental Microbiology, is one of the professors working on the project. She said the tools available to identify methane hotspots right now are not useable in landfills or wetlands.

"I am interested in developing some microbiological tools," she said. "There are organisms who are able to consume methane. They will eat or breathe methane, and convert it to carbon dioxide, which is still a greenhouse gas, but it is less potent."

She said the landfill sites researchers are looking at right now in Waterloo region are currently able to clean and convert methane into biogas, which can then be used to generate energy at the site. But that cleaning and conversion of methane is not easy once they become methane hotspots.

"Hotspots represent these unexpected, difficult to localize, uncontrolled emissions. So we want better ways of detecting those and better ways of controlling those [hotspots]."

"Methane hotspots represent a doubled climate issue because instead of becoming a natural source of sustainable energy for the landfill site and the region, it becomes a direct emission of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere," she said.

Five-year project

The project is a recipient of Environment and Climate Change Canada's Climate Action and Awareness Fund (CAAF). The CAAF is focused on helping fund "Canadian-made projects that help to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions".

Researchers from the University of Waterloo have partnered with the regional government, the federal Waste Reduction and Management Division and Telops. According to its website, Telops is a manufacturer of "high-performance hyperspectral imaging systems and infrared cameras for defence, industrial, and academic research applications".

The project began in September 2022 and will wrap up September 2027.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aastha Shetty

CBC journalist

Aastha Shetty can be reached via email aastha.shetty@cbc.ca or by tweeting her at @aastha_shetty

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