Fujifilm looks to garbage for energy

Maker of imaging devices, photo and copying products to begin using methane gas from landfill to power its nearby manufacturing center.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
3 min read
Fujifilm, maker of everything from medical imaging devices to snap-shot cameras, will begin using methane gas from a South Carolina landfill to power its nearby manufacturing center.

The Tokyo-based company said Wednesday that by 2008 it plans to power between 32 and 44 percent of its Greenwood, S.C., facility with energy from methane gas, which will be converted into usable form and piped in from a landfill that's about 3.5 miles away. The effort is designed to save as much as 50 percent on energy costs annually, and reduce the company's dependence on natural gas from oil, according to Johnny Udo, director of environmental, health and safety initiatives at Fujifilm's Greenwood operation.

"This will significantly reduce our carbon footprint," said Udo during a conference call Wednesday. He added: "We're launching this effort because first and foremost it's good business."

He added that the project will help Fujifilm reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent.

The deal is one of the first signs of corporate endorsement for methane-to-energy projects. With prices rising for oil and natural gas, several start-ups have been working on ways to draw on alternative energy sources for power. In Texas, for example, alternative-energy specialist Microgy is opening up a series of thermophilic digesters that will transform cow manure into natural gas and biogas. So much gas can be produced from this process that Microgy will ship it over commercial natural-gas lines.

Natural gas from cow manure or garbage releases fewer pollutants than coal or gasoline. And the fuel stock costs little to obtain and has little independent value. In fact, garbage costs money to eliminate, so using it as fuel can cut other operational costs. Case in point: the amount of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions avoided by the Fujifilm deal would equal the emissions produced by more than 17,000 gasoline-powered vehicles in a year.

Fujifilm is executing the conversion project in partnership with Methane Credit, a renewable-energy developer that will invest about $2 million to convert the gas over the 10-year life of the project contract. Fujifilm will make minimal investment in the project, according to Udo, who said the company's costs are related primarily to converting two natural gas boilers so they can support methane gas intake as well. That conversion will cost about $200,000, he said.

In all, Methane Credit will pipe in about 197 billion BTUs of methane-generated energy per year, an amount that would be enough to heat roughly 5,000 homes annually. Udo said that Fujifilm would buy more of the energy, but that's all it can get from the landfill project.

The deal also solves a problem for Greenwood County, which was facing an Environmental Protection Agency deadline to reduce methane emissions from the landfill. Without the deal, the county would have had to burn off the landfill gas and lose a potentially valuable source of energy.

"We were facing the challenge of eliminating methane gas from the landfill, which is damaging to the environment and a waste of a potential energy source," said Robbie Templeton, chairman of the Greenwood County Council. "This gives us a new revenue source from methane."