Republic Services is entering the anaerobic digestion business with the acquisition of North State Bioenergy, a facility located in Oroville, California, about 70 miles north of Sacramento.
The deal for a facility that Republic previously contracted with allows the waste major to integrate an anaerobic digester into its processing portfolio for the first time. It also comes as California works to meet goals set out by SB 1383 to separate more organics from municipal waste streams and send them to more dedicated facilities.
"The organics space, it's growing so rapidly, especially in California. Right now every city, every jurisdiction is getting a lot of pressure to roll out these programs,” Chris Seney, director of organics operations at Republic, said. “It’s an exciting time to be in organics.”
Republic’s new facility processes 100 tons of waste per day. The facility was developed in 2017 in part thanks to a state grant provided to North State Rendering and Biogas Energy Company, a family business run by Chris Ottone, the Chico Enterprise-Record reported. Ottone’s family had owned a rendering plant nearby for decades, but the passage of California AB 1826 required businesses to begin recycling organic waste. That created a ready feedstock of organic materials for Ottone to begin collecting.
Republic’s acquisition of the facility comes as additional organics recycling legislation creates new sources of feedstock in the state of California. The state passed SB 1383 in 2016, setting a goal to divert 75% of organic waste from landfills by 2025.
But those goals require a dramatic ramp-up in organics recycling capacity. A 2019 report from CalRecycle and Integrated Waste Management Consulting found that the state would need to roughly double the capacity of composters and anaerobic digesters in order to process the additional waste.
In 2019, the state had roughly 160 permitted composting facilities and more than a dozen anaerobic digestion facilities, according to the report. But operators at the time said they were hesitant to scale up capacity without dedicated feedstocks.
"There just wasn't a lot of volume. There wasn't statewide mandates. There wasn't programs getting rolled out to every hotel, grocery store and restaurant," Seney said. "That's what's happening now in California."
The law phased in an organic waste collection service mandate for every jurisdiction in the state starting in 2022.
Since then, Seney said he's been busy pursuing projects that could take in the increased capacity. Republic currently owns 12 composting facilities throughout the country, half of which are in California.
The vertically-integrated firm also operates three commercial food waste pre-processing sites in California, including one in Sacramento that previously had a contract with the newly acquired anaerobic digester.
The Oroville facility is powered by the 200 MMBtus of biogas generated on-site per day, according to Republic. The facility also has a fueling station that Seney said could be used to power trucks moving between the Sacramento pre-processing site and the digester. There's also the potential to build a gas pipeline connection on-site moving forward.
Republic has a goal of increasing the recovery and circularity of materials by 40% by 2030, in part through organics recycling. It's also working to increase its recovery of greenhouse gases created through its landfills and is building out renewable natural gas systems on dozens of existing landfills through a partnership with Archaea, now owned by BP.
As for organics, Seney said Republic would continue to look into additional opportunities to acquire or develop new anaerobic digesters, though he noted the market is small enough that there aren’t many facilities to acquire.
“I think more of them in the future are going to go through the permit process and development process and take 5, 6, 7 years from start to finish,” Seney said. “There just aren't many digesters that are even operational in California.”