After a lull in investor interest stretching back a decade, attention to “anaerobic digestion” waste-to-energy is surging in the United States, developers in the sector have said. Renewable fuel options are drawing increasing investor demand amid concerns about climate change and environmental, social and governance issues, especially in Europe.
Meanwhile, California is encouraging fuel producers to cut their carbon emissions and big transportation businesses are converting their trucking fleets to renewable natural gas. In May, the logistics and delivery company UPS said it would buy 170 million gallons of renewable natural gas by 2026 — the largest purchasing commitment for renewable to date by any U.S. company, it said. “2019 is probably the biggest year in the history of digestion as far as I can remember,” said Dana Kirk, who manages the Anaerobic Digester Research and Education Center at Michigan State University. He estimated that there are 50 to 100 new projects starting this year.
The last time investor interest in anaerobic digestion jumped was in 2007 and 2008 during a surge in oil prices, but “the economic performance of those systems did not end up very well,” Kirk said. “This is the second big rush of investments, but this is a whole different scale now,” in part because of the low carbon intensity of the fuel from anaerobic digestion, Kirk said. “It is in really high demand, so you see values of the commodity being at astronomical levels,” he said, pointing to the record-high price of California carbon credits in the last 12 months.
Newlight Partners, a private equity fund founded last year by a group of former Soros Fund Management financiers, last week announced a $106-million investment in Bioenergy DevCo, a Maryland anaerobic digestion developer. Bioenergy DevCo was created this year with additional funding from Sagewind Capital, a New York private equity fund, and individual investors.
This year Bioenergy DevCo bought BTS Biogas, an Italian company that has built more than 200 plants in Europe. The acquisition will help Bioenergy DevCo bring developed anaerobic digestion technology to the United States to expand operations, the investors said.