Florida-headquartered Nopetro Energy is adding another cog to its “circular” clean energy operations as it captures methane from municipal landfill waste to create renewable natural gas (RNG). The gas is then turned into CNG to fuel public transit and fleets.

Nopetro CEO
Nopetro Energy CEO Jorge Herrera. (Source: Nopetro)

The company recently started construction on a landfill gas-to-RNG facility in southern Florida, marking the first for the region and the second for the state. The $40 million Vero Beach Nopetro Eco District project will initially produce 3 million gallons of RNG. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2025.

“Renewable natural gas really provides a remarkable opportunity for communities to not only eliminate harmful emissions in terms of biogas that’s currently being flared, whether it’s a wastewater treatment plant or a landfill, but it also allows for a native source of natural gas production,” Nopetro Energy CEO Jorge Herrera told Hart Energy.

Production of the clean energy resource is seen as another way to harden the grid, while also creating a new revenue stream for municipalities and counties open to partnering with private companies.

Municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions generated by human activity in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2022, the EPA said methane emissions from landfills were equivalent to the greenhouse-gas emissions from more than 24 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for a year.

RNG, which is produced from biogas with feedstock sources such as landfill waste and wastewater, is formed when contaminants are removed from methane to elevate the gas into pipeline quality gas that is used in the same ways as fossil gas. The carbon intensity of RNG can be considerably lower than fossil gas, though it varies depending on the feedstock used. The fuel source is seen as a promising route to help lower greenhouse gas emissions and green up grids.

methane emissions
(Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)


One Man's Trash? Treasure of RNG Prospects Available for Waste Facilities

Earlier this year, Deloitte reported that only 225 of the 1,641 publicly owned municipal landfills in the U.S. capture biogas through anaerobic digestion. Captured biogas is used mostly to generate electricity. Just 28 landfills produce RNG, Deloitte said in a report.

Nopetro is among the companies seizing opportunities. The company aims to produce about 2 million MMBtu of RNG annually, which Herrera said the company expects to reach within 36 months.

The company, which owns or operates about 16-17 compressed natural gas fueling facilities, has a unique operating model, according to Herrera, who cofounded the company in 2008. It’s a producer, offtaker and distributor.

“About 50% of the country’s solid waste sector has transitioned the garbage trucks, the refuse fleets, over to compressed natural gas,” Herrera said. “On the transit bus [side], you’ve got about a third roughly of the country’s transit system running on compressed natural gas. So, because we own and or operate compressed natural gas fueling facilities, we effectively are our offtake.”

The company is working with municipalities such as those in Florida’s Indian River County where the landfill gas-to-RNG production facility is being built.

“Once we produce renewable natural gas in for example, Indian River County, we will inject it into the pipeline and then we will send it to our facilities and will be able to distribute renewable natural gas to, say, the Central Florida Transit system, the city of Orlando, Orange County … It’ll be a truly circular operation here in Florida where we’ll get to turn our waste, our trash into fuel, into renewable natural gas. And then we'll get to use that same fuel to power busses and trucks in the in the state of Florida.”

He also sees opportunity to use RNG for power generation.

In the U.S. and Canada, 338 RNG production facilities are in operations, according to the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas. Another 165 are under construction and 324 in development. Nearly three-quarters of the RNG volumes use municipal solid waste as feedstock.

The growing industry is not without its challenges.

“One of the more difficult challenges is there’s a lot of stakeholders that are involved in these projects. You’re going to have municipalities. You’re going to have utilities. You’re going to have the local distribution companies that have franchises in that area,” Herrera said. “So, you've got multiple parties that need to collaborate constructively in a way to push a project forward.”

Having necessary infrastructure and pipelines in place — and ideally having feedstock within a five-mile radius of production — is also important, he added.

While RNG is less carbon intense than fossil natural gas, it remains more expensive. State and federal incentives, including multiple tax credit options, have improved economics.

“From the federal government, the Inflation Reduction Act was very beneficial to the industry, allowing for these projects to come to the market in a quick and expeditious manner,” Herrera said. “So, these are all different mechanisms that we have to be able to produce renewable natural gas and make the projects work.”

nopetro vera beach
Nopetro Energy recently broke ground on the Vero Beach Nopetro Eco District project in Florida. The facility is expected to become fully operational in the first-quarter of 2025. (Source: Nopetro Energy)

At its Vero Beach facility, Nopetro plans to produce about 450,000 MMbtu per year of RNG, which equates to roughly 3 million gallons of gasoline on an energy equivalent basis. The project has been more than two years in the making.

The facility is expected to be commissioned by November or December and become fully operational in first-quarter 2025.

“The objective is to turn all our nation’s waste resources into energy. I believe that there is an enormous opportunity from both an economic perspective, but also from a societal perspective, in terms of being able to repurpose our waste and convert that into energy,” Herrera said. “It seems like a natural evolution for humanity to be able to accomplish that objective. And now with science and technology reaching the levels that they’ve reached today, it’s actually possible.”