Smithfield Foods, Inc. and Dominion Energy are doubling their investment in renewable natural gas projects across the U.S. to $500 million through 2028. The additional investment will expand their Align Renewable Natural Gas joint venture beyond its initial projects in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah, to pursue new projects across the country, including in Arizona and California.
Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy formed Align RNG in November 2018, committing $250 million over 10 years to capture methane from Smithfield’s company-owned and contract hog farms and convert it into clean RNG. With the additional $250 million investment announced, the companies will produce enough RNG to power more than 70,000 homes and businesses by 2029. Align RNG’s first project in Milford, Utah, will be operational this year and will produce enough RNG to power more than 3,000 local homes and businesses at full capacity.
“After researching ways to transform manure into renewable energy for nearly two decades, Smithfield, together with our partners, has developed a proven business model that can be expanded at scale across the country,” says Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods. “These efforts culminated in 2016 when Smithfield led the industry as the first major protein company to adopt a far-reaching GHG reduction goal throughout its entire supply chain. We followed this announcement in 2017 with the launch of Smithfield Renewables, a platform that unified our industry-leading carbon reduction and renewable energy initiatives.
“Last year, we joined forces with Dominion Energy in a historic initiative to transform the future of sustainable energy and agriculture. This substantial extension of our ‘manure-to-energy’ efforts will help us achieve our ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025 across our entire supply chain, while creating additional value for local family farmers and providing communities with clean energy.”
Methane is produced from a variety of natural sources, including hog manure, food waste and wastewater. When released into the atmosphere, methane emits approximately 25 times more greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. By capturing methane from farms, the development of RNG significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural operations. When fully implemented, the expanded partnership will prevent more than 2.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, the same as taking more than 500,000 cars off the road or planting more than 40 million new trees.
“Our partnership is revolutionizing the future of sustainable energy and agriculture in this country, and we are thrilled to partner with Smithfield to grow this exciting new industry,” says Diane Leopold, president & CEO of Dominion Energy’s Gas Infrastructure Group. “We’re not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we’re also turning a waste product into a clean energy resource. We’re capturing 25 times more greenhouse gas emissions from the farm than are ever released when the gas is used to heat homes or power businesses.”
A typical RNG project consists of a cluster of 15 to 20 farms, where methane is captured from covered manure lagoons or digesters and then transported by a low-pressure biogas transmission line to a central conditioning facility. Once the gas is processed to meet pipeline-quality standards, it is then delivered to end users through existing underground pipelines.
“It’s incredible how much environmental progress we can make through the power of innovation and partnerships,” says Sullivan. “There are many synergies between our two companies that allow us to advance this technology on a wide scale. We share a strong commitment to innovation and sustainability, and together we have the technology and market expertise to make this work.”
“From the customer’s standpoint, RNG is the best of both worlds because it combines the environmental benefits of renewables with the reliability of natural gas,” says Leopold. “We’re making big investments in solar and offshore wind, but RNG is different. It works 24-hours-a-day so we can deliver clean energy to our customers when they need it.”