General Motors has quietly been making strides in greening their operations. What's most encouraging is that GM isn't doing it for the publicity; they're doing it simply because technological advances in sustainability are increasingly making good business sense.
In 1999, GM began experimenting with turning landfill gas—those otherwise worthless fumes that do nothing but stink and fill the atmosphere—into energy. By using landfill gas to heat a portion of their paint shop in Orion, Michigan, they discovered they had reduced their energy costs by half per vehicle. In 2002, GM then started using this LFGTE (LandFill Gas to Energy) technology to power parts of their Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly facility.
Presumably having worked out the kinks, now they're taking bigger steps. This month GM invested $24 million in LFGTE machinery. The Fort Wayne facility's LFGTE percentage will quadruple from 10% to 40%, and the Orion plant will draw a whopping 54% of its juice from the stuff. This will cut 89,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, about the equivalent of what 18,500 cars put out. The total LFGTE yield between the two plants will be 14 megawatts; if they repeat this nine times with other facilities by 2020, they will hit their self-imposed goal of using 125 renewable-energy megawatts.
Here's a local news affiliate's overview of the project:
And here's a video by GM partner Waste Management on how they turn fumes into juice:
There's at least two things we find heartening about GM's overall approach to greening their roll. The first is that between Fort Wayne and Orion it will save them some $10 million annually. So unlike using a longer-payoff-term source like solar, they'll recoup their investment within three years. Hopefully other manufacturers will take notice and follow suit.
The second thing is that GM is not taking a one-size-fits-all approach with their facilities. One might conclude, for example, that if they can profitably draw electricity from landfill, that means they will encourage the creation of more landfill. Not so: While that solution makes sense for Fort Wayne and Orion, it doesn't for some other GM facilities. We'll take a look at that next.