California company considers tapping Superior landfill for energy

Vespene Energy could utilize landfill methane on-site for data processing and cryptocurrency mining.

A piece of heavy equipment compacts trash at the Superior landfill on Moccasin Mike Road in 2017. The Superior City Council will consider allowing a California-based company to explore turning landfill gases into energy.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — A Berkeley, California company could investigate the potential to turn gas into energy at the Superior landfill.

The Public Works Committee approved signing a letter of intent with Vespene Energy Inc. on Thursday, April 6 to allow the California-based company to explore the possibility of utilizing gases generated at the landfill to convert into energy for custom-designed, self-sustaining microgrids used for online data processing or cryptocurrency mining.

The footprint of the Grand Foot Path in Douglas County

The council will consider the proposal Tuesday, April 18.

Vespene Energy’s model appears to get around those issues, according to a memo that will be presented to the council. Rather than selling the energy to the grid, electricity is used on-site.

“Right now, we just flare off our gas and burn the gas to convert methane to CO2 (carbon dioxide) because the green house gas is not as bad, but it’s not great,” said Darienne McNamara, landfill manager. She said methane "can be converted to compressed natural gas … which can be used to run generators and sold back to the grid.”


However, the landfill’s isolated location makes it very expensive to do those things, McNamara said.

The city has explored gas-to-energy projects in the past, but all have shared common obstacles. The landfill is more than a mile from the nearest gas pipeline or shared power line, making it very expensive to get energy to users.

"What Vespene Energy does is use the gas to power equipment on-site,” McNamara said.

The process is geared toward smaller landfills like Superior’s, while other gas-to-energy projects are done from landfills about 10 times the size of the one in Superior.

“It’s a good fit for our site in that way,” McNamara said.

The company makes money from online data processing and cryptocurrency mining and would use energy generated on the landfill site to continue that work, McNamara said.

So far, McNamara said the company has not done any on-site investigation to determine if it would move ahead with a project.

The letter of intent would authorize the company to do the investigation but would not require city officials to commit to a project without further approval. The only commitment from the city is to forgo soliciting other parties during the due diligence period, which would not exceed six months after the letter is executed.


The company would still have to come back to city officials with a contract if it determines a project is feasible, McNamara said.

“Mining cryptocurrency takes a lot of energy, so I think that their goal is to have a more greener use,” Councilor Tylor Elm said. “It’s kind of intriguing.”

The city already receives carbon credits for flaring the methane to carbon dioxide, said Todd Janigo, public works director. The city would retain those credits if Vespene Energy decides to move ahead with a project.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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