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HOUSTON—Landfills can be hotspots for methane emissions, but waste management and recycling companies like Republic Services are converting that methane into renewable natural gas (RNG).
The Phoenix-headquartered company is working with Archaea Energy, the RNG producer that is being acquired by BP in a $4.1 billion deal, to develop 40 RNG projects in 19 states.
“We were looking for speed to market and the JV route was all about speed to market,” Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability for Republic Services, said describing the company’s relationship with Archaea. “When we think about a portfolio now of 40 projects with an intent to bring them all online by the end of 2027, that’s going to be a significant amount of new RNG available for the marketplace.”
Together, the projects are expected to generate more than 12.5 MMBtu of RNG annually. Aiming to complete about eight of those projects a year, permitting, engineering and equipment procurement are underway as developers continue lining up construction crews.
“There are lots of opportunities to produce renewable natural gas, biomethane, today from various sources, and landfills play a big role.”—Pete Keller, Republic Services
“I think we’re turning dirt right now on two or three projects,” he said. “So, there are boots on the ground.”
More action could be on the way for Republic Services as it looks to capitalize on the RNG growth engine, while doing its part to lower emissions.
Keller, whose comments have been edited for length and clarity, sat down with Hart Energy last week at the Reuters Energy Transition North America conference to speak about the future of RNG and other potential decarbonization and environmental services growth areas on the company’s radar.
Velda Addison: What are your thoughts on what the future holds for renewable natural gas?
Pete Keller: We think of renewable natural gas as a bridge fuel. There’s lots of talk about a hydrogen economy or electrification, getting a cleaner grid, and we think that’s all part of the future, too. But we can’t get there overnight. There are lots of opportunities to produce renewable natural gas, biomethane, today from various sources, and landfills play a big role. I think about 69% of what’s available in the North American renewable natural gas market is derived from landfills. So, it’s the outsized portion of the marketplace today.
With the projects that we’ve announced and others in our industry have announced, we’re going to see that share of landfill gas-derived biomethane increase over time. There’s investment occurring elsewhere—dairy, swine and wastewater treatment. Those all have a role to play as well, and from a carbon intensity standpoint, some of those projects have a better profile. I’ve seen swine projects with -200 to -300 carbon intensity. When you think about some of the incentives that exist, some of the low-carbon fuel markets, California in particular, those markets will value that type of fuel more than they value the landfill gas fuel. But the carbon intensity of landfill gas is on average 70% lower than diesel. So, that’s pretty significant on the journey to a lower-carbon future.
VA: Are acquisitions a possibility in the RNG space for Republic?
PK: I think so. To the extent that, we continue to be acquisitive in our traditional lines of business. I wouldn’t be surprised if between now and the end of the decade, we owned more landfill assets and those landfill assets would usually come with some form of gas collection. Whether there’s a renewable project there or not, we’d have to take that on a case-by-case basis, but certainly more opportunity over time.
VA: Do you see any additional opportunities to work with BP now that it is acquiring Archaea?
PK: I think so. Now, I haven’t been part of any direct conversations with BP leadership and of course, the deal has not closed yet. But a simple example I would use is we’ve made significant investments in plastics recycling, and there’s a lot of leakage that occurs in our ecosystem with opportunities to capture plastic. When was the last time you saw a recycling bin at the gas station? Like never. Think about BP’s footprint of gas stations. A partnership with BP could be a really cool opportunity to capture more plastic at those filling stations. That’s something that we need to talk to them about and work through, but that’s just one example of what could be a universe of opportunities.
VA: What other decarbonization and environmental services areas does Republic find attractive?
PK: We’re long on electrification. We’ve got the fifth largest vocational fleet in the country. That’s a pretty big footprint of vehicles, and they’re heavy-duty Class A vehicles. So, 21% of our vehicles today are CNG; 26% of our fuel consumption is natural gas; and 100% of that consumption is renewable natural gas. So, we’re part of what’s driving those pathways in transportation fuel today. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of opportunity with 74% of our fuel consumption being fossil-based. We’ve got lots of opportunity to decarbonize our fleet over time, and we think it’s important to our customers as well. We’re piloting EV in a couple of different markets today. We’ve got eight trucks on the road that we’re running daily. I think we expect to have a dozen more before the end of this year. So, those are initiatives that we’re advancing, and we look to maybe have 30% of our fleet be electrified by the end of the decade.
The other area of opportunity for us is circular economy. We’re one of the largest recyclers in North America, and we touch a lot of material. We return literally millions of tons of manufacturing feedstock back to the marketplace, whether it’s cardboard, paper, aluminum, tin, various grades of plastic and glass. That’s all really important. Whenever you use a recovered or recycled feedstock in a manufacturing process, it’s a much lower-carbon impact, much lower greenhouse gas. The starkest example is aluminum. Every ton of aluminum that’s recycled, you avoid nine tons of carbon. So, there’s a really good avoided carbon story in recycling, and we think over time the market, customers, manufacturers, producers, brands, they’re all going to value that material more in the future than they have historically.
We’re [also] looking at sequestration opportunities with CO₂ but that would be geologic sequestration, downhole type of stuff that is tried and true. … We’re starting to extract more and more organic fraction in certain marketplaces for food waste, green waste, deliberately cleaning that material up and producing a slurry that can be delivered to anaerobic digestion facilities that make biogas and ultimately put that gas to market. We’re doing more of that every year. California’s a big emerging market for us. Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Massachusetts will be, but they’re in early innings.
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