Published Online: January 22, 1997

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Tapping into a money-saving mound

The ecology club at Pattonville High School near St. Louis stumbled onto a hot idea four years ago when it urged school officials to tap methane gas from a nearby landfill to heat the school.

That suggestion became reality this month when Pattonville High began warming its 2,000 students, 170 rooms, and two gymnasiums with gas pumped from the landfill via a 3,600-foot pipeline.

Stacy Luebbert, a junior and the club's current president, said she's learned a lot from the project.

"It had never occurred to me that a landfill could be the source of energy to heat a school." Ms. Luebbert said

Pattonville may be the only public school in the nation heated by methane gas, according to Ed Coe, a policy analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We're excited about this as a case study," he said.

The Pattonville school district spent $150,000 to build the pipeline, but officials say they hope to save $40,000 a year in heating bills. The gas is provided free by the landfill's owner, Fred Weber Inc.

School officials say there is enough gas under the 10 tons of landfill waste to warm the school for 40 years.

The national news media have covered Pattonville's methane gas heating project, and schools as far away as Florida are calling the high school to ask about the project.

"It has certainly increased the profile of our club," said Jim Urie, a teacher at Pattonville who sponsors the 20-member group.

"Hopefully," he said, "it will do a lot for the environmental movement."

Mr. Coe said that in order to work as an energy source, a landfill should be at least 6 months old and within five miles of the potential user. For information, call the EPA's methane-gas hot line at (888) STAR-YES.

--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON

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