OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

How two Rural, Creative North Carolina Communities Recycle a Local Landfill in a way that Creates Jobs, Assists Startups, Furthers the Arts & Aids Endangered Plant Life

Two rural, creative North Carolina communities are teaming up to recycle a local landfill in a way that creates jobs, assists startups, furthers the arts, and aids locally endangered plant life. Yancey and Mitchell counties, in NC, developed a method to capture a byproduct (methane gas) from a landfill and use it as an energy source. "Methane gas from the decomposing (landfill) trash powers a hot shop for glass blowers, a pottery kiln, and supplies radiant heat for the studios, greenhouses, education center, offices and art gallery...The system is expected to save over a $1 million in energy costs...and is equivalent to planting 14,000 acres of trees or taking 21,000 cars off the road in NC each year." The project is called EnergyXchange.

Photo of Leigh Cullen
0 2

Written by

Yancey and Mitchell counties, in the Black Mountains of Western North Carolina, teamed up and developed a method to recycle local landfill gas. They call the project EnergyXchange. The following information is pulled directly from

The research:
“Landfill gas consists of about 50% methane, the primary component of natural gas, 50% carbon dioxide, and a small amount of other organic compounds. Ordinarily, without a collection system, the landfill gas moves upward and escapes into the air. The collection and combustion of the landfill gas drastically lowers greenhouse gas emissions.”

The mission/vision:
“The mission of EnergyXchange is to apply the use of renewable resources and practices for educational opportunities and economic development in the fields of art and horticulture.
The vision is to pioneer the use of alternative energy in promoting our unique local resources for the purpose of implementing and sustaining successful rural development.

EnergyXchange is run by a 15-member Board of Directors, comprised of public officials, business and civic leaders, and representatives of the area.
The “three Es” of EnergyXchange’s local impact are: Environment, Education, and Economics. The programs that facilitate this local impact are the craft business incubator program (, project branch out (, and the landfill gas system itself.

Many school groups, civic organizations, governmental agencies, and individuals interested in alternate energy come to EnergyXchange for a guided tour. These tours provide information on landfill gas, wind energy, and solar energy, as well as, horticulture and aquaculture.”

The application:
“At EnergyXchange, the landfill gas is captured and used as an energy source, thereby reducing local smog and global climate change. The fuel-burning appliances on (the EnergyXchange) campus are powered by methane gas generated by a decommissioned landfill. The methane is collected from the field and piped to heating appliances and craft studio equipment. Combusting or using the methane on site significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A localized application for the methane is the best practice for a resource that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere or burned wastefully.
The EnergyXchange complex includes four greenhouses, three cold frames, a retail craft gallery, visitor center, clay studio and glass studio. Methane gas from the decomposing trash (in the landfill) powers a hot shop for glass blowers, a pottery kiln, and supplies radiant heat for the studios, greenhouses, education center, offices and art gallery.
The The EnergyXchange Craft Incubator program was established to support six talented artists in starting, managing, and operating their own small businesses in the crafts of glass blowing and pottery. The residents have years of experience already devoted to their respective craft. The goal of the program is to help artists at the beginning of their careers further develop both their craft and business skills, leaving EnergyXchange with the ‘know how’ and experience necessary for success on their own or in other craft studios.
The artists while at EnergyXchange perfect their craft, develop their businesses, and live in our community. The program supports two glass artists and four clay artists. The clay kilns and glass furnaces are fired with landfill gas at no additional cost to the residents. In the creation of their pieces of art, the EnergyXchange artists are also helping the environment and the local economy.”

The results:
“The system is expected to save over a $1 million in energy costs over the landfill’s conservatively estimated 20-year reuse cycle; however larger direct burn landfills can produce methane for 40-50 years. Methane, when burned, combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more effective at holding heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA’s feasibility study, the environmental impact of the Yancey-Mitchell County landfill Reuse Project is equivalent to planting 14,000 acres of trees or taking 21,000 cars off the road in North Carolina each year!
EnergyXchange has become one of the nation’s model energy recovery projects and is used regionally, nationally, and internationally as an example of successful small landfill gas projects. The EPA Methane to Markets Program included EnergyXchange in a 2008 landfill gas workshop in Poland and was included on a tour of Western North Carolina by Gov. Beth Perdue and Sen. Joe Sam Queen in the spring of 2010. Also in 2010, delegations from Mexico, Canada, Brazil and India toured EnergyXchange to gain insights into developing similar projects.”

This is an example of two small, innovative communities teaming up and making an impressive environmental impact. Not only did they devise a creative way to reuse local trash, but they did it in a way that furthers their community, the environment, and enables business to thrive. Imagine this type of approach cascading across many small, global communities–pairing local community leaders, researchers, innovative thinkers, environmental scientists, engineers, artists/designers, and startup resources. That's pretty powerful stuff.

When visiting North Carolina recently, I ran across a documentary on EnergyXchange on a local NC television station. The above data comes from EnergyXchange's website:


Join the conversation: