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Archaea COO Benham Talks High-BTU Renewable Gas: Growing Markets

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Biogas project developer Archaea Energy has completed over 30 gas-to-energy projects, nationwide, and has five more currently underway. Founded in 2018, the company grew from the seeds of Noble Environmental, a landfill and hauling operation in the Pittsburgh, PA area. Instead of outsourcing the development of a high- BTU renewable natural gas (RNG) project at a site in that region, the team built its own project.

Archaea Energy COO Chet Benham discusses how the company is leveraging what it learned at Noble to build similar projects for other landfill owners/operators. He talks about some of the projects themselves, including one it is doing for waste and recycling company Rumpke at Rumpke’s Medora, Ind. landfill. And he discusses greatest challenges and opportunities in landfill gas projects.

Waste360: Tell us a little about the projects Archaea has underway. What is their status? 

Benham: Archaea has five projects now underway nationwide. These projects stretch from Maine to California. Permitting has been completed for several and is underway for the rest. Two are entering substantial construction phases. In the others, wellfields and project components are being designed and major equipment is being ordered. 

Waste360: What type of renewable product do you make at each project? 

Benham: Each Archaea project is designed to produce renewable natural gas (RNG). The majority of RNG will be used to help large partners decarbonize operations, with some held back to sell into the credit markets. Most RNG sold into credit markets will be directed toward transportation fuel users. 

All this renewable fuel is injected into the utility grid and arrives at offtake partners' existing interconnection locations - without any capital expense or infrastructure change required on their part.

Waste360: I understand Archaea is involved in RNG projects through their entire life. What are your main roles/responsibilities over the long run?

Benham: In most projects, Archaea serves as the primary RNG developer. Once a project is online, Archaea's role transitions to the maintenance and operation of the project. Archaea’s design and operational philosophy prioritizes safety, reliability, and compliance and maximizes the amount of RNG available for sale while minimizing odors and greenhouse gas emissions. This approach aligns our goals with those of landfill owners: each party focuses on these shared priorities.

Waste360: What has been Archaea’s business strategy with regard to establishing and growing a market presence?

Benham: Archaea’s goal is to be the premier partner in the RNG space. The RNG business is reputation and trust-driven, so Archaea follows a simple strategy—do good deals with good people. This strategy dictates who we work with and how we work with them. Mutual trust and respect ensure landfill owners, suppliers, customers, and the members of the Archaea team are all aligned. Working on good projects with good partners will fuel market expansion as we fulfill our goal of "redefining renewable." 

By “redefining renewable,” we mean changing perceptions and expectations. Specifically, we want to help the public perceive landfills as renewable energy generators, not “dumps,” and we want our development partners to expect more from Archaea than from other developers – our plans are built to deliver superior savings, compliance, safety, and RNG production. We foster (and meet) those expectations by combining the best and most experienced operators in the industry with an innovative approach that stresses designing RNG projects around the unique qualities of each individual project site. 

Waste360: What are your near-future business plans? Long-term plans? 

Benham: Archaea's near-term plans are to successfully complete each project now underway while continuing to find mutually beneficial offtake arrangements with institutional RNG purchasers who share Archaea’s vision of sustainability. In the long term, Archaea plans to reshape perceptions of landfills - essentially, "redefining renewable."

Landfills are renewable energy generators; when developed by a partner with the right skills and resources, they can positively impact the environment both locally and globally. Archaea wants to be the preferred RNG developer for landfill operators nationwide and the first stop for responsible organizations with aggressive decarbonization goals.

Waste360: Can you tell some of the story of how Archaea began as a landfill operator and hauling company? And how and why you transitioned to biogas project developer?

Benham: Archaea's founders began their careers in the waste services industry as owner/operators of two landfills. At one of those sites, they contracted for the development of an RNG plant, but developer delays and cost overruns led them to take over the project and see it through to completion themselves. Archaea grew from that experience; it's our founders' way of bringing their insight and proven development process to market.

Archaea's founders still own and operate two landfills and a waste hauling operation, and their experience as landfill owner-operators makes Archaea uniquely able to work alongside development partners by anticipating their unique needs. 

Waste360: What have been your greatest challenges in landfill gas projects? And your greatest opportunities?

Benham: The greatest challenge in these projects is that every landfill is different and each one evolves over time. Building flexibility into a system to deal with the unexpected and having the expertise to overcome the unexpected is critical.

The greatest opportunities are in driving more efficient operations and finding other value streams for landfill gases, like renewable hydrogen. 

Waste360: Tell us about your newest project with Rumpke at its Medora Landfill? And how does it fit with Archaea’s business strategy?

Benham: Archaea's project in Medora, Indiana sited on Rumpke’s landfill will convert landfill gas into usable natural gas to be pumped into a regional pipeline for distribution. Archaea expects to pipe about 1,800 MMBtu’s per day into distribution, which is the equivalent of what is used to power about 12,000 local homes.  

We expect to complete construction and open the new plant by the end of 2021.

This partnership is an example of building good projects with good people. Rumpke has been at the forefront of renewable energy projects for decades. Partnering with a waste services firm as established and well respected as Rumpke has been a pleasure and an example of the long-term, mutually productive relationships we pursue.

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