Biogas Advances in the US

Biomass Magazine || January 27, 2017

Producing a range of end products from a seemingly endless list of resources, methane-based energy project development is picking up in the country.

Cattle, poultry and swine manure, dinner scraps, wastewater treatment plant sludge, vegetable canning and potato processing waste, beer-making residuals, landfilled trash and the list goes on indefinitely, materials that most people would seek to dispose of are becoming hot commodities in the developing U.S. biogas industry. While seemingly infantile when compared to other countries’ mature methane-derived energy sectors such as Germany, recent years have seen a development boom inspired by a variety factors, including the U.S. renewable fuel standard.

The U.S. is currently home to over 2,200 operational biogas-producing sites, according to the American Biogas Council, including 171 on-farm digesters, 1,500 digesters at wastewater treatment plants—only 250 of which use the produced biogas—563 landfill-based energy projects (26 pipeline, 537 electricity), and there are well over 11,000 potential sites for new projects, prospects being eyed by both domestic and foreign developers.

Different states and regions will soon or have recently become home to new projects that produce a variety of end products, from electricity to renewable natural gas, based on available feedstocks, incentives/funding and power prices, as well as building momentum to reduce waste and create renewable energy. The following is a roundup of some of the projects to come online or begin construction during the past year.

 US Northeast 

The Northeastern region of the U.S. has been considered the nation's most economically developed, densely populated and culturally diverse region, ranging from the northern tip of Maine southwest to Pennsylvania. The region’s population has served as a driving factor behind a number of states implementing legislation to control waste, especially at large waste generators and collectors of waste like landfills, supermarkets and farms. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York,

Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont have a combined 542 biogas plants, with the potential for over 1,000 additional biogas plants based on the amount of available organic material, according to ABC’s August 2015 data. Out of the group, New York and Pennsylvania come out on top with 216 and 173 operating biogas plants, respectively, and the potential for over 300 additional plants in each state.

Throughout 2016, there has been a host of developing biogas projects. In mid-April, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. LLC celebrated the opening of its facility in Freetown, Massachusetts, which will process an estimated 34,000 tons per year of inedible food products from all of Stop & Shop New England’s 212 stores that cannot be sold or donated to regional food banks or local farms into 1.25 MW of electricity. In July, Vermont Technical College’s anaerobic digester (AD) named “Big Bertha” began operating at full capacity, transforming 16,000 gallons of cow manure and organic matter from Vermont farms and brewery waste from the Alchemist and Long Trail Brewing Co. into 8,800 kWh of electricity daily. The following month, American Organic Energy solidified its core engineering team to construct its AD facility on Long Island, New York. Louis Perry Group, a CDM Smith Co., in conjunction with GE Power & Water, the Eggersmann Group of Germany and Green Arrow Engineering will contribute to the project. Once fully operational, the facility will recycle food waste to produce vehicle fuel, electricity, compost and clean water.

As noted, Blue Sphere’s Charlotte facility has begun operating, and its Johnston, Rhode Island, plant is nearing completion. Austep Group’s U.S. subsidiary, Auspark LLC, as EPC contractor, is going through the phases needed to bring the 3.2-MW Johnston facility to the testing and commissioning phase, according to the company’s November project update. The approximately $19 million facility will sell its power to National Grid via a 15-year PPA once complete.

Ohio has an RPS standard that Rumpke Waste & Recycling and Energy Developments (EDL) LFGTE facility at Rumpke’s Brown County landfill will participate in. Shovels broke ground in November on the $8 million project, which will generate 4.8 MW of electricity for sale to American Municipal Power Ohio. LFG is piped to Caterpillar 3520 reciprocating engines, each with the capacity to produce 1.6 MW of electricity. According to Dennis Bollinger, vice president of commercial and regulatory affairs with EDL, the project site was selected for a number of reasons. He says the landfill was capable of supporting the generation capacity that EDL needed to install in order to meet its minimum thresholds, and Ohio is a strong focal point for the company’s energy developments. “It’s taking an otherwise wasted resource and using it for beneficial use,” Bollinger says. “If we weren’t there, the gas would just continue to be flared and it would be of no value to anyone.” The project is expected to be operational by April.

Quantum Biopower

Toward the end of 2015, Connecticut only supported 14 operational biogas systems, 10 of which were at WWTPs, but the state has the potential to quadruple this number. Quantum Biopower is one company helping the state reach its potential with the state’s first food waste AD system out of a potential six ABC estimates could be built based on available state resources. Quantum decided to construct its digester on 60 acres of land in Southington, at one of three locations where its sister company, Supreme Forest Products, operates green waste recycling; taking in brush, stumps, leaves and recycling it into usable, sellable products like mulch, compost and soil. “Based on the food diversion mandate and proximity to major highways, Southington is ideally located in the center of Connecticut. Plus, we were welcomed with open arms by the people of Southington, and we’re proud to call it home,” says Brian Paganini, vice president and managing director of Quantum Biopower.

According to Paganini, the president of Quantum had a vision many years ago about creating compost blends that were infused with organic nutrients. He was willing to financially support the project, as he saw digestion as a way to accelerate the composting process and create unique organic compost blends from the residual materials. Building off that vision, there were a number of factors that drove this $14 million project, including successful lobbying efforts. “We worked very hard with both the environment and energy committees in the state legislature to support programs that lead to digester development,” Paganini shares. Of particular note, he adds, Quantum worked closely with ranking members of the general assembly’s environment committee to support the passage of Connecticut’s Virtual Net Metering Program. Connecticut was the thirteenth state to adopt the program, which allowed Quantum to sign a 20-year PPA with the town of Southington to power five of their government buildings. Not to mention, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection acted as a project partner, working with Quantum to permit and construct this first facility. “We will continue to partner with them to help develop digestate management standards in Connecticut and assist them in formalizing operator’s certifications for digester operations in the state,” Paganini says.

Quantum was able to overcome hurdles with permitting, technology, application, construction and energy offtake to bring its first facility to the early stages of startup and operation this year. At full ramp-up, the plant will take in 40,000 tons of food waste annually—about 150 tons per day—via its low-solids digester. The AD system uses a two-stage process, and a nutrient recovery and removal process, which allows the company to take a wide range of food waste; packaged, contaminated, clean food waste, liquid source separated organic streams, etc. Customers sending waste to the plant include Shop Rite, the Aqua Turf, the Farmington Club and Bozzuto’s, one of the largest privately held food distributors in the region. Paganini says there were two reasons why the company focused heavily on organics preprocessing during the project’s technology diligence process. First, as a merchant facility—the first in Connecticut—Quantum wanted to be built for feedstock flexibility to offer customers a complete solution. Second, Quantum was seeking a process that would remove the majority of inorganic material, ahead of digestion, so its downstream digestate was free from contaminates. “This ensures that when we make our compost, we are limiting the amount of contaminant materials,” Paganini says. The project will produce roughly 8,000 tons per year of a nutrient-rich organic compost blend, and the company plans on leveraging the market channels they currently have in place to market a premium-grade compost product to meet the needs of a growing organic compost movement, according to Paganini.

The plant has the capacity of generating 1.2 MW of power, equivalent to about 750 homes’ electricity use for one year. However, this permitted capacity could be an issue for Quantum moving forward, as Paganini points out that they’re filling up their capacity fast. The company is considering a phase two plan to expand the facility’s footprint to avoid any future problems the capacity limit could cause.

This project provides critical infrastructure for adherence to the state food mandate, Paganini shares, which means that if a large food producer (greater than 2 tons per week or 104 tons per year) is within 20 miles of Quantum’s facility, then they are mandated to divert food waste out of their waste stream. Also, Connecticut has a goal by the year 2024 to reduce, reuse and recycle 60 percent of its generated waste. Currently, the state is diverting 32 percent, and according to the state’s 2015 waste characterization report, food waste is the largest portion of Connecticut’s waste stream (20 percent or 500,000 tons) and the least recycled.

Construction of the biogas plant took eight months, and Quantum capitalized on the construction background within its group of companies to build it, with the knowledge that this would be one of more to come. According to Paganini, Quantum is currently vetting five projects along the East Coast for further development. “We no longer need to look at the successes of our European colleagues because real growth, in the biogas industry, is taking shape here in the U.S.,” Paganini says. “As more states implement food diversion programs and recognize digester methane as a renewable baseload energy source, the runway becomes longer and more defined for future project growth. It’s a great time to be part of such an exciting industry as it takes shape right in front of our eyes.”