Two Companies with Strong Ties to Maine Play a Large Role in Renewable Energy
Stephen Sanderson and Matt Smith have known each other for nearly 10 years. Back then, neither would have expected to be working on dairy farms.
“My grandfather would be really pleased to know I am indirectly involved in helping farmers,” Matt Smith, CEO of RenewGas Transportation said.
Matt’s company is based in Needham, MA, but he spent summers in central Maine visiting his grandparents. His grandfather grew up in a farm in New Brunswick and Matt has always been interested in farming. He was part of the team that built Backyard Farms in Madison, the largest tomato greenhouse on the East Coast.
“Renewable natural gas projects provide an economic benefit for dairy farmers. Anytime farmers can create a new revenue stream or reduce costs, it is a huge advantage. These green energy projects may help keep a farm going for another generation,” Matt continued.
The manure from dairy cows has become of great interest to green developers and energy companies. The manure can be processed using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas that can be processed onsite to improve its methane content, and ultimately be sold to a local utility company as natural gas. Recently these projects have become more feasible with better technology, and more economical with governmental incentives.
Stephen’s company, APEX Engineering in Yarmouth, is a multidiscipline engineering design firm that works with project owner’s to develop the process of turning manure into pipeline quality natural gas.
“There are many steps in this process from manure management, anaerobic digestion, gas upgrading and compression to the transportation and ultimate injection of the compressed natural gas into the intrastate pipeline,” Stephen explained.
Both RenewGas Transportation and APEX Engineering are involved in numerous anaerobic digestion projects throughout the West and Midwest. Steve’s team provides mechanical, electrical, structural, process and controls engineering design services.
Matt’s company plays a pivotal role in the process too. The renewable natural gas needs to be injected into an existing pipeline for it to be monetized. However, many of the large dairy farms are not near an existing pipeline. So a “virtual pipeline” is utilized instead, where the natural gas is compressed and delivered via trucks to the pipeline injection site.
Matt’s company supplies the custom tube trailers and highly trained operators to transport the valuable natural gas from the farm to the closest pipeline access point. Steve’s company designs the truck loading and unloading stations.
The natural gas is compressed to a very high pressure and requires the expert knowledge that Matt’s team possess to insure safe handling and transport. The trailers are very light and constructed from carbon fiber, which allows Matt to transport a sizable amount of gas per truckload.
Delivering the renewable natural gas to the pipeline is another crucial step in these projects. There are financial incentives from some States and the Federal government to reduce greenhouses gases, as well as blend traditionally manufactured fuels with green energy.
California is leading the way with its Low Carbon Fuel Standard program which intends to reduce the State’s dependency on petroleum for transportation fuel. The fuel generated from the dairy farms qualifies because dairy farms are substantial contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Traditionally, the manure from dairy farms is held in an open lagoon where all the methane is slowly released into the atmosphere. Now the manure is processed in a closed vessel where all the byproducts can be reused. The gas is upgraded for sale to the local natural gas company, the liquid can be used as fertilizer and the solid byproduct has many uses too, including remaining on the farm as bedding.
Depending on how advanced the process is, there are other benefits too. Carbon dioxide, that is removed from the raw biogas, as part of upgrading process can be captured and sold too. Also the biogas produced by the digester can be used on the farm to run a generator and other farm equipment. And the hot water utilized during the digestion process can be recirculated to heat barns.
Both Matt and Stephen enjoy being part of innovative projects. They would, however, like to work on projects closer to home. Stephen’s family moved to Lamoine when he was eight and after his time in the Air Force, he graduated from the University of Maine with a mechanical engineering degree.
“We know that New England does not have many large dairy farms, but we feel these projects are feasible with the use of a virtual pipeline and a cluster of smaller farms,” Stephen concluded.