Towards the end of last year, US-based Bioenergy Devco closed a $100 million funding round led by Texan alternative asset manager Irradiant Partners.
The Annapolis, Maryland-based company builds and operates anaerobic digesters, which use micro-organisms to convert organic waste such as food and ag byproducts into fuel, fertilizer, and other useful commodities.
Bioenergy Devco’s technology ‘traps’ methane, carbon dioxide, and other outputs from the decomposition of organic waste so they can be transformed into biogas. The solid remnants of the digestion process — called digestate — can be used by farmers as a soil amendment.
AFN recently caught up with Bioenergy Devco founder and CEO Shawn Kreloff (SK) to find out more about the company’s technology and its plans for the immediate future.
AFN: Bioenergy Devco says it has constructed 280 digesters and manages 140 ‘facilities’. How does this breakdown work? Does the company build digesters for third parties, while also managing some itself?
SK: Bioenergy Devco [BDC], through its wholly-owned subsidiary BTS Biogas, works with its customers from municipalities to large waste producers in a range of ways, including the finance, design, build, and operation of facilities. These projects have substantial environmental benefits for local economics and the environment.
AFN: Following on from the above question: What is the company’s business model? How does it generate revenue?
SK: BDC integrates development, build, and operations of anaerobic digesters [ADs], including such steps as site analysis and selection, engineering, construction and facility development, project financing, facility operations, and management.
AD technology is a true-to-life example of the circular economy at scale. We work directly with municipalities and companies to manage their organic residuals in an environmentally savvy way. ADs use microbes to break down organics such as food waste in a totally enclosed process to create renewable energy and an odorless soil amendment similar to compost. Renewable energy is purchased by existing energy providers and used within the existing energy infrastructure. The soil amendment [byproduct], known as digestate, is a nutrient-rich product and is sold as well.
Depending on location and size, ADs cost between a range of roughly $30 million to $45 million.
AFN: Who are your customers?
SK: BDC works with a range of customers from large industrial food companies to regional food producers, waste haulers, municipalities, and communities, all to reduce waste and emissions from organic material in order to meet climate goals and renewable energy needs. Our process can take in a wide range of organic materials from proteins, fats, oils, solids, fruits, vegetables, and food waste.
AFN: Why did BDC focus on Europe initially, despite being a US-based company?
SK: Bioenergy Devco’s wholly-owned subsidiary BTS Biogas started in Europe over 20 years ago. Europe integrated anaerobic digestion many years earlier than the US because of land capacity issues; but as landfills reach capacity and incinerators become a thing of the past, the US’s need for advanced organic waste management technology is growing. With greater concern for climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, communities across the country are seeking superior solutions for managing organic material to avoid the pollution and environmental justice issues associated with landfilling, incineration, and land application of waste.
AFN: How does Bioenergy Devco stand out from its competitors in the AD space?
SK: BDC’s enclosed AD technology has a number of advantages.
Our point of difference is our history. Our proprietary technology and in-house laboratories allow us to determine the right mix of materials and microbes needed to co-digest organic materials. As microbial farmers, coupled with our state-of-the-art technology, we have perfected the co-digestion process over decades and continue this process throughout the US and globally.
We can work at scale. The newly constructed facility in Maryland, our first in the US, will be the largest food waste AD in the country. Our facilities typically take in 100,000 to 200,000 tons of waste annually. Furthermore, our enclosed digesters eliminate odors and air and water pollution, whereas lagoon-style ADs, consisting of lined pools, are notorious for odors and groundwater pollution.
We produce a renewable energy product with a range of applications including injection directly into a gas utility pipeline, powering electricity, fuel for fleets, and transportation. Additionally, we are future-proofed for hydrogen. Currently, our energy output is renewable natural gas; but when the nation’s infrastructure is ready to utilize hydrogen, we will be able to produce this advanced form of energy.
AFN: What makes AD superior to other technologies aimed at recycling food and agricultural waste?
SK: ADs take organic recycling to the next level by operating at scale. The facility in Maryland will take in over 115,000 tons of organic material annually, and our facility in Delaware that is under construction is poised to take in close to 200,000 tons. The facility in Maryland will have the same carbon sequestration benefit as a forest 40 times the size of [New York’s] Central Park.
Most importantly, the ways we have been managing discarded organics in the US are not sustainable. Landfills create massive odor problems for communities and pollute our air and groundwater. Incinerators emit pollutants that have terrible impacts on the air we breathe, and land application poses detriments to public health and pollutes watersheds in nearby communities. Enclosed ADs, on the other hand, manage this organic material in a negative carbon process without odor, emissions, or pollution, all while creating valuable products like renewable energy and digestate that can be used immediately by the communities around the digesters.
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