Energy Recovery from Landfills through Biodegradation

Brief description

Municipal Solid Waste is undergoing degradation in modern landfills, typically at subdued rates. To properly account for changes in the waste itself as well as the impact of these changes on the mechanical and hydraulic properties of Municipal Solid Waste, a holistic, realistic, assessment of the biochemical and physical changes in the waste mass is needed. Such a fundamental characterization of the degradation process has also the potential to lead to significant improvements on energy recovery from landfills. Large-scale laboratory simulators were developed at the University of Michigan to monitor the degradation of municipal solid waste under anaerobic conditions and study the mechanical, hydraulic and biochemical aspects of waste degradation.

Video Gallery

Using drones to map methane in landfills

Paving the way for the capture and use of methane, University of Michigan researchers can pin down concentrations of the gas in landfills using autonomous drones equipped with lasers. Traditionally, the EPA requires landfills to use surface measurements, where a person walks and takes methane concentration measurements at certain intervals across an entire landfill and this data is used for compliance only. The new method could offer greater precision and reduce the time and effort required, and generate data that can help us understand the ongoing biodegradation processes in the landfill.



  • Fei, X., Zekkos, D., Raskin, L. (2014). “Archaeal Community Structure in Leachate and Solid Waste is Correlated to the Methane Generation and Volume Reduction during Biodegradation of Municipal Solid Waste.” Waste Management Journal (
  • Fei, X., Zekkos, D., Raskin, L. (2014). An Experimental Setup for Simultaneous Physical, Geotechnical, and Biochemical Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste Undergoing Biodegradation in the Laboratory, 37 (1),  pp. 1–12, doi:10.1520/GTJ20130084. ISSN 0149-6115.
  • Fei, X., Zekkos, D. (2012). “Factors Influencing Long Term Settlement of Municipal Solid Waste in Meso-Scale Laboratory Bioreactor Landfill Simulators”. ASCE Journal of Hazardous, Toxic, and Radioactive Waste (published online, in press for November 2013 issue).


  • Bateman, J., Zekkos, D., Olson, E., Messenger, S., Kershaw, C., Fei, X., and Lynch, J. (2016) Preliminary Observations from Robot-Enabled Surface Methane Concentration Monitoring at a MSW Landfill. Geo-Chicago 2016: pp. 740-749. doi: 10.1061/9780784480168.072
  • Sahadewa, A., Zekkos, D., Fei, X., Li, J., Zhao, X. (2014). “Recurring Shear Wave Velocity Measurements at Smith’s Creek Bioreactor Landfill”,Geocongress 2014, Atlanta, Georgia, February 23-26 2014, 2072-2081.  
  • Fei, X., Zekkos. D., and Raskin, L. (2013). “A laboratory landfill simulator for physical, geotechnical, chemical, and microbial characterization of solid waste biodegradation processes”. Symposium on Coupled Phenomena in Environmental Geotechnics, Politecnico di Torino, Italy, 1 – 3 July 2013, 321-328.
  • Fei, X., and Zekkos, D. (2012). “Settlement due to Anaerobic Biodegradation from Laboratory Landfill Simulators.” Geocongress 2012: State of the Art and Practice in Geotechnical Engineering, 25-29 March 2012, edited by Hryciw, Athanasopoulos-Zekkos and Yesiller, ASCE Geotechnical Special Publication No. 225, 442-4251 (in cd-rom).

Students Involved


Xunchang Fei
Sampurna Datta
Cassandra Champagne


Lauren Riedle
Julie Bateman
Gabe Draughon


Jane Gregg
NeWinCEE, Spring-Summer 2012, Spring-Summer 2013
Sarah Chronister
Spring – Summer 2010 (sophomore), MSTEM
Anna Kathleen James
Spring & Summer 2010 (junior), SURE program
Sita Syal
Fall 2009-Winter 2011 (freshman, sophomore), UROP program
Calvin Nyakundi
College Outreach and Diversity Program, Spring-Summer 2013
Kelley Langlois
UROP, Fall 2012-Winter 2013
Sachin Jain
UROP, Fall 2012-Winter 2013
Stacia Simonsen
MSP, Spring-Summer 2011
Paro Sen
UROP, Fall 2013-Winter 2014
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