In a feat of modern-day alchemy, methane generated by garbage rotting at the Altamont Landfill near Livermore will be converted to clean fuel for garbage trucks at a $15.5 million onsite facility starting in 2009.

Houston-based Waste Management Inc. and Linde North America, a subsidiary of a German company, are working together to create what the two describe as the world's largest facility converting landfill gas to clean vehicle fuel.

Hundreds of garbage and recyclable collection trucks dumping garbage at the site will run on the clean fuel, the companies said. The novel approach will mean fewer greenhouse gases will be released into California's air, both from decomposing garbage and vehicle emissions, to the tune of 30,000 tons per year, the companies said.

A Linde-designed system will suck pollutants out of the gas and cool it to 260 degrees below zero, turning it into a liquid. Waste Management will use the liquefied natural gas in its own trucks, possibly also selling some of the estimated maximum of 13,000 million gallons the facility is expected to produce daily.

The system could go into action as soon as next year if it's approved by Bay Area air quality officials, the companies said.

The project is a "very significant step toward helping meet (Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger's new low-carbon fuel standard," Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement.

Janis Mara can be reached at (925) 952-2671 or jmara@bayareanewsgroup.com. Check out her Energy Blog at www.ibabuzz.com/energy.