William Brinker started with his family’s company, Enerdyne Power Systems, at age 12 as a “shovel operator.” Before 16 he had a pretty robust skill set, from housekeeping to small construction installation. And today he is the managing director, Landfill Group, Enerdyne. The company has completed about 60 projects in the last 30 years.
In this Q&A the Waste360 40 Under 40 recipient tells what he sees as the greatest catalyst to the company’s success. He talks about his role in helping to launch and grow three company divisions. He shares details about a capital raise to deploy another $140M to grow more. And he explains why he nearly didn’t go to college and why he’s glad he changed his mind.
Waste360: What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on, and how did you go about seeing them materialize?
Brinker: The largest project we ever developed was a 23-mile pipeline from a Waste Management landfill in Waverly, Virginia to a Honeywell plant in Petersburg, VA. This is a direct-use project and one of the longest landfill gas lines built.
We also recently constructed a 7.5-mile renewable natural gas (RNG) pipeline in Lawrence, Kansas, connecting to a Southern Star line to the vehicle fuel market.
Big or small, all projects have roughly the same number of hurdles. But we have a proven process for how we develop a project.
Additionally, landfill gas development takes patience, persistence, and a special team of people to bring a project to fruition. We have been fortunate to have that combination.
We not only have a strong internal team, but external partners … landfill owners, utilities companies, off takers, municipal support, local permitting … dozens if not hundreds of people are involved in any given project. And that solid and holistic base of expertise is as important as anything to our success.
With projects of all sizes, our focus is development and management, handling the bookend tasks of gas rights and offtake. But then we make it happen in between, including design, engineering, procurement, construction, permitting, etc.
Once a project is developed and constructed, we provide back-office support – accounting, environmental health and safety, compliance, etc. So, again it’s about having a comprehensive and holistic approach.
Waste360: What can you share about the capital raise to deploy another 140MM over the next roughly five years, and how is that going?
Brinker: We have a seasoned development team, several projects under contract, and several projects we are pursuing to fill our backlog. The cost to build RNG plants is fairly intensive, and we expect to potentially deploy all of this and then some. Funds will be spent on equipment, pipeline construction, buildings, personnel, and assets to operate long term.
We already have our investor that has made a front-end commitment and earmarked back-end funds, so fortunately capital is already raised.
Waste360: What’s the competition like in the landfill gas-to-energy space?
Brinker: It is competitive for many of the seasoned developers and operators, but also very friendly since we work to help each other advance the good work in our industry despite competing for new project opportunities. We are continually working together within the industry to grow the space, awareness, and environmental stewardship. There are new entrants to market that may create new competition, but at this point we would not consider them worthy rivals.
Waste360: What do you do to try and stay on top?
Brinker: We don’t go after every opportunity. We look for projects in which we are a good fit. We invest in people and relationships, which we believe is more important than just securing another project.
Waste360: Can you give an idea of where Enerdyne stands compared to others in your space?
Brinker: We are one of only a handful of organizations that have been in the landfill gas-to-energy space for 30 years. For sure, one of only a few that are still family owned and operated. We have developed or assisted in developing 60 projects in 30 years. We build, own, and operate and have construction and fabrication in-house, which is something few in the field can claim, making us incredibly nimble.
Waste360: Enerdyne says it approaches projects with an owner’s perspective, allowing for greater results. Can you elaborate?
Brinker: I will go back to the point that we are not just a developer. We take a holistic approach to be vertically integrated. We understand how to operate and maintain landfills for compliance purposes. We understand what needs to be done from a landfill owner’s perspective, but also as an ongoing investment. We construct as though we will hold them for decades to come, which we oftentimes do.
Waste360: Please tell us about the company’s start and important milestones, leading up to today, including your involvement.
Brinker: My dad started Enerdyne in 1991.
I started in 1998, full time in 2006, which is when our construction division (Advance One Development) was created. We also have internal “hammer swingers” so we do our gas line installations, construct plants and facilities from within our construction arm. Since 2008, but officially branded in 2012, we have our fabrication division, Advanced Biogas Systems. We fabricate or assemble the vast majority of components for treating landfill gas in whatever application we are applying it to. Those three divisions allow us to basically build and operate a project from A-Z.
As for me, I have been the active managing member of the Landfill Group since 2008. I started Advance One in 2006 and ABS in 2012. I have been involved in and spearheaded the development on every project in our portfolio since 2006. I have worked every “executive” role in the company at one point or another and have worked to place the right people with the right knowledge and expertise far beyond my own in the right seats to set us up for the future. My role now is managing director, to help oversee the cross utilization amongst divisions, new business development, and to act as company missionary.
Waste360: How did you gain the skills and expertise to start whole divisions and develop projects?
Brinker: I like to say I was born in a landfill. I have been exposed to this life since I was a kid; learned it and worked my way up and had the drive to create and do more.
Waste360: Let’s go back to when you were 12 years old, starting as a “shovel operator.” What exactly were you doing? How and why did you keep advancing?
Brinker: I was working under a manager and doing housekeeping, small construction installation, learned lingo and tools, concrete, how to drive a vehicle and operate equipment all before the age of 16. I almost didn’t go to college because I saw the value we could add with construction and wanted to devote all my time to building a construction division. I’m glad that I did attend – a lot of the concepts I learned could be applied to the business. By the time I graduated, I was confident we could do more and do it better by keeping it in house – first through construction and later fabrication.
Waste360: What were your thoughts as a 12-year-old worker and how have they evolved?
Brinker: At 12, I wanted to prove myself as a hard worker and to make money. As the years progressed, I began to realize that we were doing three times the work in the same amount of time as other contractors for one-third the cost, which ultimately led to the construction division. As I learned more about business and development, I saw a development project is like an ongoing annuity, while construction is one and done. It was a valuable understanding. We started fabrication out of necessity, but also learned the added value of knowing how to make and fix our own products.
Waste360: Do you think you would have stayed with the work if it wasn’t your family’s business?
Brinker: Yes. The space is green, good for the environment and profitable as you will always have trash and always need power.
Waste360: Who has most impacted you in your career? In your personal life? How so?
Brinker: My father for both career and personal. His vision, optimism, and relentless pursuit to make things happen made him a great professional role model and father. Great to my mom, still is. Six kids who get along. Great, loving human.
Waste360: Can you elaborate on this comment you made to me? “We figured out it’s not what we do. It’s how we do it, and who we do it with that most matters. Our focus is on people, our values and mission.
Brinker: Not a lot more to speak to on that, but our vision is: To be a company that is surrounded by people who embody our values and achieve our goals; that is equitable; promotes purpose; and encourages our employees to create a meaningful quality of life.