Turning what we most definitely don't want, trash, into what we most decidedly need, fuel, is no longer a pipedream.

Turning what we most definitely don't want, trash, into what we most decidedly need, fuel, is no longer a pipedream.

It's a matter of piping.

What the residents of central Ohio throw away and have thrown away is being converted into fuel that allows a specially equipped fleet of vehicles to drive away from some fairly ordinary looking pumps at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio's Green Energy Center on London-Groveport Road.

Organic garbage such as egg shells, chicken skin, grapefruit rinds and that crust of bread in the bottom of the bag that no one in the family will eat, as well as fibers such as paper and cardboard, decompose in a landfill setting. Part of that decomposition process creates gas.

Methane gas.

It's smelly stuff, and up until recently operators of landfills, waste water treatment plants and other facilities had to get rid of the gas by extraction through a network of pipes to be burned off at the surface.

Now at the Green Energy Center, the gas produced by all that rotting trash is being cleaned up, thanks to a process developed by William Brown, and converted into compressed natural gas that can power automobiles and pickup trucks that have undergone modifications.

Brown, one of the founders in 1989 of Cleveland-based Acrion Technologies Inc., developed the process by which the impure methane gas from landfills is cleaned with carbon dioxide and made ready for use as fuel.

The initial phase of the Green Energy Center was built and is being operated for SWACO by FirmGreen Inc., a privately held, integrated energy company with headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif.

"The facility collects and cleans raw landfill gas using Acrion's patented technology CO2 Wash," according to the firm's Web site. "The cleaned methane is then converted into 'green' compressed natural gas for use in CNG-powered cars and medium duty trucks."

During the groundbreaking ceremony for the facility in September, SWACO executive director Ron Mills said: "What once was an idea is now fuel to power America's future. What was once waste is now energy to drive our economy. What once was considered the end of the line is now a starting point for economic development."

FirmGreen Inc. founder and chief executive officer Steve Wilburn said at the time: "FirmGreen is very pleased and honored to have been selected to partner with SWACO to build the first Green Energy Center in the U.S. FirmGreen believes the successful completion of the ... concept positions Ohio at the forefront in the national effort to clean our air and lessen our dependence on foreign oil while providing the surrounding communities with clean affordable vehicle fuels and retraining Ohio's displaced industrial workers to find work in the emerging green energy marketplace."

Early in the 21st century some SWACO officials chanced to encounter William Brown at a convention or trade show, and he told them about his very 21st century technology for using landfill-produced methane, according to SWACO director communications John Remy.

"The idea hatched," Remy said last week during a tour of the Green Energy Center.

The incubation effort, with the help of the California firm, now taps 8 percent of the Franklin County Landfill's 30-year supply of gas that can be converted to CNG. This can create the equivalent of 250,000 gallons of gasoline annually. It is currently being used to run two Honda Civics and several pickup trucks in SWACO's fleet, but officials are working with commercial fleet operators, school districts and cities around central Ohio to create a consortium of users of this type of vehicle fuel, according to Remy.

The communications director, who often drives the 2006 Civic outfitted at Honda's Marysville plant to run on compressed natural gas, said it feels just like driving a standard vehicle.

"You can't tell the difference," Remy said. "It sounds like a car."

The second phase of the Green Energy Center, which would be owned entirely by FirmGreen, would have the capacity to produce the equivalent of 3 million gallons of gas a year, according to Remy. If this process were to be replicated at 100 landfills across the country, he pointed out, it would produce a heck of a lot of fuel.

"That's a pretty big dent in terms of our dependence on foreign oil," Remy said. "Is this the end-all to our energy needs? No. It is part of the answer? Yes."

Construction on phase two is to start sometime this year, the communications director added.

Landfill operators from through the United States have expressed interest in learning more about the Green Energy Center, and many have visited the SWACO facility, which received a "Project of the Year" award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January during the annual Landfill Methane Outreach Program conference in Baltimore.