How To Make Landfills Less Funky

FOUL-SMELLING GASES from municipal landfills or composting operations aren't just a nuisance for people nearby. They can also cost operators a fortune to control. The solution, according to Cornell University researchers, is to use signature gases that form before the noxious fumes are released as an alarm system.

In most cases, the stench comes from bacteria that break down buried proteins, emitting culprits such as methanol and dimethylsulfide. Before this happens, however, carbohydrates in the mix tend to ferment, releasing odorless gases such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide. So the Cornell team built a pilot composter fitted with a gas-measuring device and studied the timing of different emissions. Using their observations, compost operators can pump air into the mix as soon as the odorless gases appear and reduce bacterial activity before bad fumes form.

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