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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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The four companies are among 24 semifinalists in the agency’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Pilot Prize program that were chosen to receive a total of $1.2 million for their commercial-scale CO2 removal technology.

Four Houston companies have received $50,000 each from the U.S. Department of Energy to further develop their carbon dioxide removal technology.

The four companies are among 24 semifinalists in the agency’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Pilot Prize program that were chosen to receive a total of $1.2 million for their commercial-scale CO2 removal technology.

The funding comes in the form of the Department of Energy’s purchase of CO2 removal credits.

“The Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Prize is a first-of-a-kind initiative to catalyze the market for high-quality CO2 removal credits, helping jumpstart a critical decarbonization tool,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says in a news release.

The Carbon Dioxide Removal Purchase Pilot Prize project will provide up to $35 million in cash awards. The 24 semifinalists will be whittled down to as many as 10 finalists that’ll receive up to $3 million each.

The four Houston companies that have been named semifinalists are:

  • Climate Robotics. The company’s mobile platform produces and applies biochar — organic waste material or biomass — to store CO2.
  • Mati Carbon. The companyremoves carbon dioxide and stores it in rocks to boost rice productivity in the U.S.
  • 1PointFive. The company, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, is building facility that will eventually capture up to 500,000 metric tons of CO2 per year.
  • Vaulted Deep. The companyundertakes geologic storage of slurried organic waste for permanent removal of CO2.

Granholm says the DOE prize program and the Biden administration are giving the private sector the tools they need to make real contributions to our fight against the climate crisis and deliver real benefits to communities across the nation.”

Three of the companies selected — Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics — were also recently named finalists in Elon Musk's XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions.

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