Landfills are a potent source of methane, and so companies often drill wells to siphon it as fuel. But managing those wells can be tricky. It requires manually adjusting a vacuum to gather gas from each wellhead. If oxygen enters the well, it can damage the methane-forming bacteria, which means the process needs constant monitoring. In 2011, while a Ph.D. student at MIT, Melinda Sims realized there had to be a more efficient method.
With Andy Campanella, Sims formed a company, Loci Controls, that targets the nation’s 645 energy-producing landfills. The company created algorithms that adjust vacuum pressure at individual wells. Their system remotely monitors dozens of wells in real time. The initial results are impressive: One test site showed a 25 percent increase in energy production. Loci’s monitoring is also wireless, solar-powered, and user-friendly. “I check on the system on my cellphone,” says Sims.