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Evolution of Landfill Technology:

South American Context

Dr. Patrick Hettiaratchi

Department of Civil Engineering
Faculty of Engineering, University of Calgary

Chair, Environmental Engineering Division (EED),

Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE)

June 22, 2005

University of San Fransisco De Quito
Quito, Ecuador
Sanitary Landfill Technology
 What are sanitary landfills?
The evolution from “open dumps” to current
conventional landfills

 How technology is used to minimize landfill


Future of landfilling: bioreactor

landfills/sustainable landfills??
History of Landfilling:
Open Dumping; A way of life…….
Past: was the accepted way of getting rid of our waste…
(until someone showed that it is not a good practice)

But still common practice in
most developing countries!!!!!
Open Dumps

are unsightly ………

Open Dump near Bangkok,
Scavengers in Quito, Ecuador
Earning a living… Quito, Ecuador
Landfills Produce “Leachate” or “Garbage Juice”
The Problem:
 Leachate is an aqueous solution containing high
concentrations of inorganic and organic pollutants

 Leachate BOD can be as high as 20,000 mg/L

(compare with domestic sewage BOD of 250 mg/L)

 Leachate can cause Surface-water and Groundwater

Leachate pool…….on surface!!!
Landfill Technological Solutions
In 1980s, we converted Open Dumps to Sanitary
Landfills …..
“Dry-tomb type” Sanitary Landfills are designed and
constructed to eliminate problems with “Open Dumps”
Approaches to control water contamination…
 Leachate is “garbage juice” or an aqueous liquid produced
within the landfill
“Dry Tomb” landfills are designed to control Leachate
Leachate can contaminate Groundwater (unseen) or Surface
Escape and Leachate Production
Water (obvious)

 Prevention of GW contamination with bottom liner systems

Area A
Area B
Working Face (Area D)
Area C


X-section along the length

of the landfill
Landfill Construction

Final cover

Daily cover

Intermediate cover
Leave it Alone !!!!!

Current Practice of Sanitary Landfill
Engineering in South America
 Excellent leachate escape control: Extensive use of
geo-membrane liner systems with leachate collection

 In-adequate leachate production control: Landfills

are kept open for too long

 Issue: Leachate management is mostly by

complex (primary, secondary and tertiary) treatment
systems: High capital and operating costs
Sanitary Landfills in South America:
Leachate Management Alternatives
 Build smaller cells (smaller area, but deeper), close
the cell quickly with an “evapo-transpirative” cover.
Result: decrease leachate production with time
 Avoid leachate treatment by transporting to a
nearby sewage treatment plant. Since quantities are
small, this is viable and cost effective (not in Quito …..
Combined sewage and leachate treatment in Inga???)
 Leachate re-circulation with some storage and pre-
treatment: Viable and cost-effective if properly planned
and managed.
Performance-based Design of Sanitary
Landfills: The Common-sense
Approach ……..
 Performance-based Design: Optimal design for a
defined performance of the landfill components.

Example: Leachate management required only if

groundwater contamination is unacceptable.

 Sometimes expensive liners may not be required

 Inga in Quito,
Dona Juana in Bogota
 Loma Los Colorados in Santiago
Performance-based Design of
Landfills: The Common-sense
 Performance-based design is practiced in:

 United States (allowed under Sub-title D landfill


 Canada (sometimes known as the “natural attenuation

Performance-based Design of
Landfills: The Common-sense
 Application in South America??

 need public acceptance

 need expertise for analysis and design

Other Problems with the Dry-tomb
Sanitary Landfillling Approach
 Un-sustainable??? Loss of Space…. Need to find new
space every few years (Quito, Toronto, Edmonton)

 Long-term liability: Need to monitor potential impact

for a long- time (until waste stability is achieved)

 Landfill gas
Landfill Gas; a liability or a resource?
 Landfill gas contains CH4 and CO2 (both are
Greenhouse Gases. But, CH4 has a global warming
potential of 23, whereas CO2 has 1).
 About 1/4 of anthropogenic CH in United States
comes from landfills

 Gas can be extracted for energy recovery….

But, in most cases, gas production is low; not
economical to extract gas for energy recovery

 Landfill gas can be a major hazard (Zambiza

landfill in Quito, Ecuador)
Zambiza Landfill (Quito, Ecuador)

X-section along the transverse direction

Zambiza Landfill (Quito, Ecuador)

X-section along the transverse direction

A Case for Landfill Gas Extraction
and Energy Recovery

 50% of landfill gas is methane

 1 tonne of MSW produces 150-200 m3 of methane

 based on stoichiometry,
 under ideal conditions
 over a period of time (time period depends on rate
Landfill Gas is typically extracted using “active systems”
(“passive systems” are used primarily to reduce gas
pressure build up: more wells are needed)
Landfill Gas Extraction and
Energy Recovery

 Extraction is feasible in any

Typical: vertical well network
 Networks are designed using
 gas production estimates,
field testing and
theoretical calculations (based on radius of influence)

 Or on “as needed” basis; using surface emission data

Active Gas Recovery in Loma Los
Colorados Landfill, Chile, Using a
“Designed Well Network”
Loma Los Colorados; Gas Well Network
4 5
10 19
2 16
9 20
1 17
8 14 21
25 29
28 57

Disconnected gas well

Connected gas well 90 metres
A problem with gas extraction
in Loma Los Colorados ……
 The “designed” network was not efficient……..

 Less than 25% of the gas produced was captured

 based on a “methane balance” done in 2001.

 Why??
 The landfill was not designed for methane recovery

 Use of low permeable daily/intermediate

cover material
Experience in Montreal, Canada……

 Most wells are installed on “as needed” basis

 Use a large number of wells, but gas collection

Efficiency is very high.
Gas wells….everywhere
Well-head in Montreal landfill
Energy Recovery: Is it Feasible??
 Gas can be extracted from most landfills,
but sometimes energy recovery may not be
feasible !!!

Reason: Not economical……

In Chile; gas is burned in a Central Incinerator……

CH4 burned= 85 tonnes/year (or 330 m3/d)

In Ecuador; wells are fitted with
flares…. produce toxic compounds
Gas Management: Other Solutions
 Find a nearby community or industry to use
the recovered gas directly…

 Develop as a CDM project (for Carbon

Credits under Kyoto Protocol)
Another Solution……..
Design for Gas Extraction and Energy Recovery!!
 Landfill Bioreactor concept:
 Leachate is recirculated as a means of enhancing
rates of reactions within the cell

 Controlled recirculation of leachate will

increase moisture, nutrients and
provide a microbial seed for rapid biodegradation

High rates of gas production will

enhance economics of energy recovery
Bioreactor Landfill

Anaerobic Reactor
A Better Solution: Sustainable Landfill
Go two steps further……
After the Anaerobic Bioreactor stage, include:
 Aerobic Bioreactor stage (in-ground composter)
 Biocell mining stage

 Stabilize the waste quickly (Anaerobic and Aerobic)

 “Mine” the cell, and extract recyclables & compost

 Reuse the space………….

 Holistic approach (not “piece-meal”)

Sustainable Landfill

Aerobic Reactor
Sustainable Landfills: Are we there yet???

 Not really…..

 Although there are some operating Anaerobic

Reactors (and a few Aerobic Reactors) around the
World, no one has tried the sequential operation
(Sustainable Landfill) yet…..

 A number of operational problems

needs to be resolved before Sustainable
Landfills can be universally applied.
Problems to Resolve
Moisture Distribution Within the Cell
What We Want…..

What We Get
Leachate Pools:
Created by “over-zealous” Leachate Recirculation
Problems to Resolve
Surface Gas Emissions
 Could occur during construction of the biocell (may
take 1 or 2 years to completely fill a cell)
 Significant quantities can escape from surface even with
a gas capture system
example: Loma Los Colorados Landfill, Chile
Landfill Bio-Caps or MOLs

Commercial Emissions CH4 & CO2 Oxidation
Recovery Emissions In landfill cover

CH4 & CO2

CH4 & CO2 Lateral

 A new concept

 Use a naturally occurring bacteria to convert methane

Biofiltration of CH4

Microbially mediated
oxidation of CH4 is carried
out by methanotrophic

(Methylomonas methanica)
CH4 Oxidation in Landfill Caps

% Methane Oxidized





0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Time (days)
Sustainable Landfill Operation
(Calgary Biocell Concept)

Anaerobic Anaerobic
Year 1 Year 2

Space Recovery
Year 6 Year 3

Aerobic Aerobic
Year 5 Year 4
Calgary Sustainable Biocell or LBC

 Pilot Project (1 hectare: 50,000 tonnes of waste)

 Partners/Participants: City of Calgary,

University of Calgary and Consultants

 Mitigation Measures:

 Biocap, or Methane Oxidation Layer (MOL),

to control methane gas emissions during
construction and operation
LBC Design …..
LBC Construction
LBC Filling
Monitoring/Sensors for Research and
LBC Operation
• Temperature

• Settlement (plates at 4 levels)

• Loads (pressure transducers/pressure plates)

• Leachate head (piezometers)

• Moisture in waste (TDR)

• Pore pressure measurements

• Leachate characteristics
Monitoring/Sensors; Settlement
Monitoring/Sensors; Layout
LBC Current Status
• First lift is being filled with domestic waste

• In early July, the first intermediate biocover will be

• Sensors are being installed

• Expect to collect settlement data and biocover

performance data, starting mid-July
 Waste disposal has progressed from “open dumps” (in the
past) to “dry-tomb sanitary landfills” (present).
 Bioreactor Landfills/Sustainable Landfills could be the

 Sustainable landfilling follows a holistic approach. Consider

waste as a resource; extract “biogas energy” and compost
and recyclables, and space. It is consistent with the “current
environmental (sustainable development) thinking”

 Technical challenges need to be overcome, before

Sustainable Landfill concept could be universally applied.

Thank You!