Tracking land policy in the Golden State.

Running Cars On Compost? California Makes a Move.

CNG buses like these in San Diego could rung on compost gas before long | Photo: LA Wad/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If a Sacramento-based company has its way, California will be the first state in the country to offer drivers the opportunity to fill up their tanks with natural gas from solid waste.

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According to a release issued today by BusinessWire, the California Energy Commission has awarded a $300,000 grant to Atlas Disposal develop the nation's first fueling station supplied by anaerobic digestion of compostable materials. The fuel would be suitable for the state's existing fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered vehicles. An adjacent facility operated by Clean World Partners would power Atlas' plant with gas turbines fueled by the digesters' output.

Natural gas as piped from the ground is mostly methane, and organic materials fermented in the absence of oxygen give off essentially the same gas. Anaerobic decomposition in landfills has long been tapped as a source of electrical power, but using the resulting gas to power vehicles hasn't yet been tried. The main advantage of using compost gas rather than conventional natural gas? If the compostables used aren't made of fossil fuels, the resulting fuel is much closer to carbon-neutral.

CNG vehicles are more commonly found in fleets than as private vehicles, so Sacramento -- with its numerous agency headquarters -- seems a good place to try this pilot project. Atlas' long-term goal is to replace a million galons of diesel fuel per year in Sacramento, and to generate 2 million kilowatt hours of electrical power per year at the adjacent generating station.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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