Manitoba·Opinion

Here's a pipeline we can all get behind

There is a pipeline that economists, environmentalists and all levels of government can all support: One that takes biogas from a landfill to a power plant where it can be used for fuel.

Brady Road landfill biogas could replace natural gas at University of Manitoba campus, professor writes

Biogas being captured at the Brady Road landfill should be used in place of natural gas at the University of Manitoba, Prof. Nazim Cicek says. (CBC)

There is a pipeline that economists, environmentalists and all levels of government can all support: One that takes biogas from a landfill to a power plant where it can be used for fuel.

A few weeks ago, I took one of my classes on a site visit to the Brady Road Resource Management Facility (previously the Brady Road Landfill). The two-hour tour exceeded all of our expectations. Who would have thought a former landfill could be this interesting! 

The site has gone through remarkable change over the last six years. In addition to placing non-recyclables in the landfill, its services now include a 4R depot that takes many types of recyclables (including electronics, appliances, tires, household hazardous waste, glass, metals, etc.); composting yard and wood waste; treating wastewater biosolids; and collecting and flaring biogas.

The number of biogas collection wells was recently increased from 42 to 64, with another 22 wells planned for next year. This would bring the total biogas collected and flared to close to 2,000 cubic feet per minute. At about half the heating value of natural gas, this amount of landfill biogas still represents a significant source of renewable power.

It is time to bring this resource to a large-scale user of natural gas, the University of Manitoba Fort Garry Campus.

This is a multi-win proposition that is now timelier than ever:

Winner 1 — The City of Winnipeg.

Sending the landfill biogas to an end user rather than flaring it on site eliminates 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from the landfill.

This will bolster Winnipeg's reputation as a sustainable city, willing to invest in decarbonization. It also mitigates odour and air emissions to nearby residential developments.

Winner 2 — The Province of Manitoba/Manitoba Hydro.

The province's Crown corporation would be the long-term beneficiary of the financial proceeds from displacing about $3 million of natural gas annually.

Proceeds from biogas collection, in the form of payments from the University of Manitoba, could go to Manitoba Hydro, says Nazim Cicek. (CBC)

It is estimated that the savings would cover the cost of the infrastructure needed to clean, pipe and use the landfill biogas on the University of Manitoba campus in seven to 10 years (depending on a variety of factors) but the biogas at the landfill will be available for at least the next 70 years.

Following the recovery of initial costs, proceeds, in the form of payments from the University of Manitoba, could go to Manitoba Hydro.   

Winner 3 — The Government of Canada.

The federal government would see some of the climate-related funding it provided to the province (from the Low Carbon Economy Leadership Fund) used for a project with immediate greenhouse gas benefits. The project could serve as a model for other such initiatives countrywide.

Winner 4 — The University of Manitoba.

The U of M would become the only campus in the world that would get all of its electricity, heating and cooling needs met with 100 per cent renewable energy.

By locking in the price for the biogas over the long term, the university also would get cost certainty and not be affected by carbon taxes.

Now's the time

As for why this is the right time:

  • The provincial government announced a $25/ton carbon tax that will kick in this year. Although the Brady facility is, for the time being, exempted from the tax, displacing natural gas at the University of Manitoba would mean the school won't have to pay $750,000 per year in carbon taxes it will face if the university sticks with natural gas.
  • The university needs to replace older natural gas boilers, which have reached the end of their lifespans. This is the right time to invest in multi-fuel-burning boilers that can use landfill biogas and natural gas for backup.
  • By annually displacing $3 million worth of imported natural gas, less money leaves Manitoba and instead supports domestic economic activity. It makes it easier to reach recently announced provincial targets of reducing natural gas use by 0.75 per cent annually over 15 years. 
  • Southwestern Winnipeg is rapidly growing, bringing homes closer to the Brady facility. Any mitigation of odour and air emissions will be important to these new developments. 

There is no novelty to landfill biogas-to-energy systems, with off-the-shelf technology readily available. More than 30 Canadian landfills already convert landfill biogas to usable energy, with nearby cities such as Regina, Saskatoon and Edmonton operating landfill biogas-to-electricity systems. There are several hundred such facilities in the United States.

The University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus powerhouse is less than 10 kilometres from the landfill biogas collection site at Brady, making it an ideal user. (Thomas Asselin/CBC)

The landfill biogas cleaning, compression, piping and combustion technologies are well-established, with no additional studies required to prove effectiveness. 

The university's Fort Garry campus power house is less than 10 kilometres from the landfill biogas collection site at Brady, making it an ideal user.

In 2009, the University of New Hampshire became the first campus in North America to use landfill biogas, piping it from a landfill that is 20.3 km away. Landfill biogas is now covering 85 per cent of all of the University of New Hampshire's heating and electricity needs. 

Current annual natural gas consumption at the University of Manitoba varies from 14.5 million to 18 million cubic metres, which is in line with what will be flared at Brady after the planned expansion this fall. Future expansion of collection wells at Brady will ensure that even during the highest-demand periods of the year, all heating on campus can be provided by landfill biogas. 

Every year landfill biogas is flared is a year wasted. The City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba should collectively move forward with the help of federal funding.

They will all have something to be proud of — a pipeline that everyone can get behind and a ribbon that's truly worth cutting.


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Nazim Cicek is a professor and associate head in the department of biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba. His research interests include biological waste treatment, renewable energy production, anaerobic digestion, and production of bioplastics and biopolymers. He teaches courses in the environmental engineering area.