Toyota's methane recycling operation at the Central Kentucky Landfill.

Toyota's Kentucky Plant to Turn Trash Into Power

Nov. 17, 2015
Next week, the plant will begin recycling methane from a nearby landfill, converting it to enough energy to build 10,000 vehicles annually.

Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., manufacturing plant next week plans to begin generating a small part of its electricity from methane, a byproduct of decomposing organic material at the nearby Central Kentucky Landfill. 

The project is initially expected to generate one megawatt (1 million watts) of electricity per hour to the plant. Annually, that adds up to enough energy generation to produce approximately 10,000 vehicles, according to Dave Absher, Toyota’s environmental strategies manager. That’s about 2% of the plant’s energy use. The system can be scaled up to 10 megawatts per hour.

Trash in the landfill breaks down into landfill gas, which is about 50% methane. A network of wells collects and prepares the landfill the gas to fuel generators that produces renewable electricity. An underground electric transmission line runs from the landfill about 6.5 miles to deliver the electricity to the plant. 

Toyota’s global headquarters recently announced a plan to eliminate CO2 emissions from its vehicles and manufacturing plants by 2050. Specific initiatives include launching the Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle this year,  making its fuel cell patents available to other automakers and developing manufacturing technologies that use hydrogen as power. The goal also requires using alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and locally produced renewable energy.

“It’s a small step, but a significant one,” Kevin Butt, Toyota’s general manager for environment strategies, said in a statement. “These types of changes to our manufacturing operations coupled with other global initiatives will help us reach this very aggressive goal.”

Toyota isn’t the first automaker to use methane from a landfill to power its plant. In 2003, BMW began its Gas to Energy Project at its campus in Spartanburg, S.C. Currently, BMW's methane recycling program generates about 50% of the campus’s total energy requirements, saving BMW an average of $5 million annually, according to its website.

Toyota’s methane project is a collaboration between Toyota’s Georgetown manufacturing plant and the Central Kentucky Landfill, owned and operated by Waste Services of the Bluegrass.

Landfills are required to monitor methane levels and report these levels to the EPA. Capturing and burning the methane has been determined by the EPA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Toyota Georgetown’s project began in 2010, when the two companies met to discuss the potential. Last fall, Waste Services began installing a methane collection system and Toyota began installing the generator at the site. 

“This project was a true collaboration between the two companies,” said Absher. “There was also a tremendous amount of support from the local community, public utilities and elected officials to get the project off the ground.”

Toyota Georgetown produces approximately 500,000 vehicles per year--the Lexus ES350 and both gas-powered and hybrid Camrys and Avalons.

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