Renewable Natural Gas Set For Disruptive Growth

A renewable source of energy without constraints of time of day or weather and whose surface of potential is just now being scratched.

Vanguard Renewables integrated anaerobic digestor/farm installation. Vanguard Renewables integrated anaerobic digestor/farm installation. VANGUARD RENEWABLES

Imagine if you will a renewable source of energy without constraints of time of day or weather. A renewable source of energy whose surface of potential is just now being scratched. Perhaps most importantly in today’s political environment, a source of renewable energy that does not rely on supply chains dominated by adversarial nations as the source of its feedstock, but America’s family farms instead.

That is the line of business in which Vanguard Renewables and its new CEO, Joel Gay, are engaged. It is a business focused on converting manure and food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG). What remains following the production of RNG is then turned into organic fertilizer,  returning the nutrients from the manure and food waste produced back to the soil to be recycled again and diverting tons of waste that would have otherwise gone into landfills or incinerators.

RNG is the first carbon-negative energy source since it is produced from organic matter that would otherwise be released as a powerful greenhouse gas. As a result, Vanguard is helping companies like Starbucks and Unilever meet their “net-zero by 2050” pledges that have become a fad among major energy and consumer goods companies.

The positive news for everyone is that this industry is scalable in a major way. Vanguard, which was founded in 2014 by a pair of entrepreneurs, already has farms in development in 17 of the 50 U.S. states and is embarking on a plan for major expansion. To manage that expansion the company just announced the hiring of a new Chief Executive Officer, Joel Gay.

“Vanguard has been a bona fide disruptor within the clean-tech and renewable energy markets through its creation of the most scalable RNG platform in the world – a differentiated commercial model incorporating vertical integration that contemplates the most valuable components of the renewable energy and waste management value chains,” Gay said in a company release. “This groundbreaking model has forged a truly circular economy that prevents waste and pollution, captures clean energy for beneficial use, and creates value for all stakeholders. In sum, this equates to an incredibly unique and timely opportunity that I am keen to further scale and monetize. Vanguard’s founders, John Hanselman and Kevin Chase, have well-positioned the Company for its next phase of growth and value creation.”

In a conversation this week I told Gay that his company’s move was the first I had actually learned in some detail about this part of the energy world, and that I felt a little guilty about that. “You’re not the only one who was relatively unaware of this sector,” he said with a laugh. “Up until about 4 months ago I was, too. I had heard about landfill gas, but wasn’t familiar with RNG or bio-gas as a function of anaerobic digestion. So I have spent the last 4 months just auto-didactically getting up to speed, and clearly feel as though this sector is set to experience massively explosive and disruptive growth.”

Vanguard, already one of the biggest players in the production of RNG by anaerobic digestion nationally, stands to play the leading role in that growth. “In terms of the growth potential, it is relatively unlimited,” Gay said.

“The business is bifurcated between organic and Ag. On the organic side, we are combining both manure and organic recyclable material – this is off-spec food, spoiled food, organic liquids or organic solids. We combine all of those into a homogenous slurry, which is then fed to our anaerobic digesters. So, on the organic side, we end up with roughly 2 parts manure combined with 8 parts organic materials.”

Full cycle diagram of anaerobic digestion  system

Full cycle diagram of anaerobic digestion system. TN.GOV

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