Nopetro to Launch Florida’s Second RNG Facility; Sets Sight Beyond

Nopetro Renewables is building Florida’s second-ever landfill gas-to-renewable natural gas (RNG) facility in Indian River County, with plans to launch in January 2025 and scale to 400,000 MMbtus later that year. The company, which built its first RNG fueling station for heavy-duty trucking fleets in 2011, now owns and operates 15 distribution sites across Florida. But the Indian River project in Vero Beach is its first production plant.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

July 10, 2024

5 Min Read
DZE VANTAGE

Nopetro Renewables is building Florida’s second-ever landfill gas-to-renewable natural gas (RNG) facility in Indian River County, with plans to launch in January 2025 and scale to 400,000 MMbtus later that year.

The company, which built its first RNG fueling station for heavy-duty trucking fleets in 2011, now owns and operates 15 distribution sites across Florida. But the Indian River project in Vero Beach is its first production plant.

“We’d been sourcing our RNG from third parties for years; it made sense to begin producing it ourselves and distribute it through our infrastructure,” says Jorge Herrera, CEO Nopetro Energy.

This new public-private partnership will entail capturing the county’s landfill gas; piping it to Nopetro’s adjacently located property; and conditioning, cleaning, and converting it for injection into the pipeline for use at fueling facilities around Florida.

Partners in the $40M project include engineering construction firm Mead & Hunt, local distribution company Florida City Gas, and Nova Infrastructure, an investment fund.

Indian River County will incur no capital costs while receiving annual royalty payments from RNG sales. Nopetro has done similar projects through this P3 public-private partnership structure, taking on construction, financial, and operational risks rather than transferring those risks to jurisdictions.

Today about 12 municipalities and businesses across the Sunshine State contract with the company, including Central Florida’s transit system, school districts, and several of the country’s top waste management companies.

“We see great opportunity in Florida. The population is growing quickly compared to much of the rest of the country, so from an RNG perspective this means more resources available to us – and more potential projects,” says Herrera, a long-time entrepreneur and former practicing lawyer.

He pivoted to natural gas after working on an energy transaction for the Internal Revenue Service that sparked his curiosity.

“I realized our country had one of the largest natural gas supplies in the world, and it was cleaner and cheaper [than petroleum-based fuels]. So, I started looking at potential downstream markets.”

Fast forward to today, and next on the aspiring agenda is to expand to metro areas beyond Florida and to target not just landfill operators, but food processors and wastewater treatment plants with biogases that have potential to serve as renewable resources.

Several projects are already in the works in other states that Herrera says he expects to move toward positive final investment decision status in 2025.

Landfill prospects have been fairly easy to come by. They are typically the largest biogas emitters, and with that comes potential for economy of scale. Operators see it as an alternative to flaring while generating an additional revenue stream to the benefit of their constituencies, Herrera says.

The food processors and wastewater treatment plants he talks to are looking for the same environmental and monetary advantages.  Like landfills, some wastewater treatment plants have turned their biogas into product for years.  Few food waste generators, while large emitters, have optimized their biogas from a lifecycle perspective; rather they typically pay to haul, landfill and or burn it.

So, while food waste-to-RNG is in its infancy, developers like Nopetro are watching this emerging market, expecting to see healthy growth.

There seems to be no lack of off takers.

“We see great tailwinds behind the continuous transition of the heavy- duty trucking sector to RNG,” Herrera says.

About 10,000 trash trucks ran on RNG in the U.S. in mid-2023, according to Cummins, one of the world’s largest heavy-duty engine manufacturers. The multinational corporation recently commercialized a 15-liter natural gas engine that’s getting fleets’ attention. Cummins predicts this renewables trucking option will drive a five-fold growth in customers for its alternative powertrain.

“Over the last few years there was a lot of noise with respect to transitioning heavy-duty trucking to electrification, and since then the industry is realizing RNG is a better alternative,” Herrera says.
The electric vehicle (EV) battery adds up to 16,000 pounds to trash trucks, which already weigh about 33,000 pounds when they are empty, meaning the heavy EV technology further cuts into haulers’ payload.

“So, there is more capital and more operating cost to run the fleet. Then what the grid can support is another hurdle. When you add those two drawbacks together, transitioning to RNG becomes a no brainer for heavy-duty fleets,” Herrera says.

Bullish on the expansion of natural gas for this trucking sector, Nopetro has what Herrera calls an aggressive pipeline of RNG production projects ahead.

“We are seeing consistency in the solid waste market where major companies that invested in natural gas fleets over a decade ago continue to replace [diesel engine vehicles] with natural gas,” he says. 

“We will make more gas, and we will continue expanding distribution in parallel in order to build out the whole system.”

Speaking of NOVA’s partnership with Nopetro, Chris Beall, founder and managing partner of NOVA Infrastructure, says, “Our new platform, Nopetro Renewables, seeks to build and operate renewable energy infrastructure, starting with the shovel-ready landfill-gas-to-RNG project in Vero Beach. Our joint venture will generate significant ESG benefits to all stakeholders, as both compressed natural gas (CNG) and RNG assets play a key role in reducing carbon emissions and facilitating the energy transition.”

Previously, Indian River County collected landfill gas and burned it off to convert it to carbon dioxide. At one time the gas was sent to an adjacent property owner for use as boiler fuel. But today it is being flared as the county awaits launch of the new RNG plant.

All of the gas currently flared will be captured and the facility is expected to initially prevent 30,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.

“Indian River County entered this innovative partnership because of the significant benefits for our community. These include addressing environmental concerns, providing cleaner air for our residents, fostering job creation, and generating revenue that can be reinvested into our community,” says Himanshu Mehta, managing director, Indian River County Solid Waste Disposal District.

While most of Nopetro’s bandwidth is dedicated to RNG, the team has designed its fueling infrastructure to integrate other technologies as the market evolves.

They have evaluated hydrogen believing its presence will grow within the energy ecosystem and are also evaluating integration of EV charging stations for consumer vehicles (vs truck fleets) at its existing facilities.

“We were expecting electric charging to qualify for D3 RINs (environmental credits) under the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, if  electricity came from renewable sources. Our notion to integrate charging stations was predicated on that. The law did not pass. But the industry is still waiting,” Herrera says.

“Production and distribution of RNG is our core focus. But we want to make sure we have laid the foundation to be able to evolve as time and the market dictates.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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