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Q&A: CEO of bp-acquired RNG producer on energy sustainability, stability

Starlee Sykes, Archaea Energy’s CEO, shares the details of bp’s acquisition of the company and their vision for the future. Image via bp.com

bp’s Archaea Energy is the largest renewable natural gas (RNG) producer in the U.S., with an industry leading RNG platform and expertise in developing, constructing and operating RNG facilities to capture waste emissions and convert them into low carbon fuel.

Archaea partners with landfill owners, farmers and other facilities to help them transform their feedstock sources into RNG and convert these facilities into renewable energy centers.

Starlee Sykes, Archaea Energy’s CEO, shared more about bp’s acquisition of the company and their vision for the future.

HETI: bp completed its acquisition of Archaea in December 2022. What is the significance of this acquisition for bp, and how does it bolster Archaea’s mission to create sustainability and stability for future generations?  

Starlee Sykes: The acquisition was an important move to accelerate and grow our plans for bp’s bioenergy transition growth engine, one of five strategic transition growth engines. Archaea will not only play a pivotal role in bp’s transition and ambition to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner but is a key part of bp’s plan to increase biogas supply volumes.

HETI: Tell us more about how renewable natural gas is used and why it’s an important component of the energy transition?  

SS: Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a type of biogas generated by decomposing organic material at landfill sites, anaerobic digesters and other waste facilities – and demand for it is growing. Our facilities convert waste emissions into renewable natural gas. RNG is a lower carbon fuel, which according to the EPA can help reduce emissions, improve local air quality, and provide fuel for homes, businesses and transportation. Our process creates a productive use for methane which would otherwise be burned or vented to the atmosphere. And in doing so, we displace traditional fossil fuels from the energy system.

HETI: Archaea recently brought online a first-of-its-kind RNG plant in Medora, Indiana. Can you tell us more about the launch and why it’s such a significant milestone for the company?  

SS:Archaea’s Medora plant came online in October 2023 – it was the first Archaea RNG plant to come online since bp’s acquisition. At Medora, we deployed the Archaea Modular Design (AMD) which streamlines and accelerates the time it takes to build our plants. Traditionally, RNG plants have been custom-built, but AMD allows plants to be built on skids with interchangeable components for faster builds.

HETI: Now that the Medora plant is online, what does the future hold? What are some of Archaea’s priorities over the next 12 months and beyond?  

SS: We plan to bring online around 15 RNG plants in each of 2024 and 2025. Archaea has a development pipeline of more than 80 projects that underpin the potential for around five-fold growth in RNG production by 2030.

We will continue to operate around 50 sites across the US – including RNG plants, digesters and landfill gas-to-electric facilities.

And we are looking to the future. For example, at our Assai plant in Pennsylvania, the largest RNG plant in the US, we are in the planning stages to drill a carbon capture sequestration (CCS) appraisal well to determine if carbon dioxide sequestration could be feasible at this site, really demonstrating our commitment to decarbonization and the optionality in value we have across our portfolio.

HETI: bp has had an office in Washington, DC for many years. Can you tell us more about the role that legislation has to play in the energy transition? 

SS: Policy can play a critical role in advancing the energy transition, providing the necessary support to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We actively advocate for such policies through direct lobbying, formal comments and testimony, communications activities and advertising. We also advocate with regulators to help inform their rulemakings, as with the US Environmental Protection Agency to support the finalization of a well-designed electric Renewable Identification Number (eRIN) program.

HETI: Science and innovation are key drivers of the energy transition. In your view, what are some of most exciting innovations supporting the goal to reach net-zero emissions?  

SS: We don’t just talk about innovation in bp, we do it – and have been for many years. This track record gives us confidence in continuing to transform, change and innovate at pace and scale. The Archaea Modular Design is a great example of the type of innovation that bp supports which enables us to pursue our goal of net-zero emissions.

Beyond Archaea, we have engineers and scientists across bp who are working on innovative solutions with the goal of lowering emissions. We believe that we need to invest in lower carbon energy to meet the world’s climate objectives, but we also need to invest in today’s energy system, which is primarily hydrocarbon focused. It’s an ‘and’ not ‘or’ approach, and we need both to be successful.

Learn more about Archaea and the work they are doing in energy transition.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

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A View From HETI

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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