A Better Way To Turn Trash Into Gas

Melinda Sims pulls more power from land fills

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.

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Popular Science as part of our “New Faces Of Energy” feature.