Long Island is one of the most populated islands in the world. Between its size and density, and the fact that its landfills have not accepted organic waste in years, the 1,400-square-mile stretch of land is strapped with a big food waste dilemma.
Viridi, provider of renewable natural gas (RNG) services and American Organics Energy (AOE) saw this southeastern New York region’s scenario as a problem looking for a solution, and just broke ground on what they say will be one of the largest anaerobic digestion [AD] operations in the U.S. to accept commercial food waste. The plant, slated to launch in Yaphank in Long Island in 2025, is expected to convert 210,000 tons of waste and fats, oil, and grease a year into RNG and fertilizer.
The project will generate emissions reductions equal to nearly 100,000 tons of CO2 a year and is projected to produce carbon-negative renewable fuels equivalent to 10 million gallons of gasoline annually. The partners have lined up British Columbia utility FortisBC as an offtaker and secured several feedstock supply contracts.
“The facility will divert food waste that is currently transferred over 300 miles to distant landfills and instead will utilize it as a resource to produce renewable energy and organic fertilizer locally, where it will be put to use by one of the largest population centers in the world,” says Charles Vigliotti, chief executive officer and president AOE.
Food waste will be brought to the plant from within a 30-mile radius, avoiding an estimated 1.4 million truck miles a year. AOE is targeting as suppliers supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, commercial food processers/manufacturers, cafeterias, and various institutional food service providers, among generators.
As shorter hauls will cut emissions, so will another change: meaningful volumes of this fast-decomposing material will no longer make its way to disposal sites anywhere.
At landfills it’s typically burned or maybe used to make electricity. But you do not capture all the methane, which releases into the atmosphere while almost none escapes with AD, says Dan Crouse, Viridi CEO.
Viridi, just over a year old, is mainly a group of tech gurus who had worked at Air Liquide to grow its RNG business, then came together to build out this new RNG platform, with backing from private equity firm Warburg Pincus.
Viridi owns majority stakes in AOE, launched by Charles Vigliotti who is no stranger to the New York metropolitan area waste management landscape. The Vigliotti family has had a presence there for a few decades, operating commercial transfer stations, managing conversion of vegetative waste for beneficial use and, with this new project, moving into food waste.
Viridi will manage development and construction of the plant in partnership with Venture Engineering. AOE will oversee operations and do some community outreach, namely collaborating with commercial haulers to teach waste generators about source separation processes, as well as bringing the community in for some education. The facility will include an on-site visitors center where local folks can watch the food waste conversion process in play.
The gas will be injected into the New York grid then sold to FortisBC who is gearing up to increase the flow of RNG into its pipelines in light of new legislation in British Columbia around greenhouse gas reductions intended to drive up production of renewables. For the BC utility the policy means the opportunity to buy and sell 5% to 15% of the province’s natural gas. And it's looking to expand its buying opportunities.
“Increasing the amount of renewable and low-carbon gases in our system is one of the many ways we’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re happy to welcome Viridi as one of our RNG suppliers,” says David Bennett, director of renewable gas and low-carbon fuels at FortisBC.
“Greenhouse gases are a global issue, and our commitment to a lower carbon future extends beyond our borders with our ability to lower global greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing RNG from outside of the province. An emission reduced elsewhere or even overseas is just as helpful as one reduced locally,” he says.
The AOE partnership is the third project Viridi has announced in 2023, with the other two being landfill gas to RNG projects—one in Marathon County, Wisconsin and the other in Baldwin County, Alabama.
A $320 million equity commitment from Warburg Pincus has been a huge lift.
“We partnered with the Viridi team to build a leading energy platform of scale focused on developing RNG. Over the past year, we are proud of Viridi’s momentum, announcing exciting developments such as those in Long Island, Wisconsin, and Alabama. We are excited to partner with the Viridi team to accelerate project development and bring additional RNG projects online,” says Roy Ben-Dor, managing director Warburg Pincus.
The young company is looking to expand its portfolio.
“There are well-trodden roads in RNG, mainly landfill and dairy farm projects that have operated in this space for years. But if you want to grow you must diversify. That’s a growing trend in this business, and we plan to take part by bringing in feedstocks beyond the traditional ones,” Crouse says. He names wastewater treatment sludge, poultry, and swine operations.
“Anything organic that you need to dispose of. And of course, we’d be happy to build on AOE, meaning doing more food waste projects with them.”