Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods have partnered on a program to convert biomass into sustainable energy, announcing their first projects in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah. The companies formed a joint venture called Align Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) that will capture methane emissions from hog farms and convert them into renewable energy for residential home heating and power for local businesses.
Courtesy of Smithfield Foods
Renewable natural gas, sometimes called biomethane, is a pipeline-quality gas derived from biomass—organic matter that can be used as fuel. Biomass feedstocks include animal manure, wastewater treatment plants, landfills, municipal solid waste, wood and agricultural residues.
"At Smithfield, we recognize true, enduring sustainability initiatives require collaboration with other proven innovators who share a similar vision," said Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods. "Align RNG is part of our nationwide expansion of Smithfield Renewables, innovative projects designed to help meet our goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2025."
By capturing methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, the use of RNG leads to a significant reduction in methane emissions from the agriculture and energy industries.
Using a technology known as anaerobic digestion, the projects will capture and process methane from large clusters of Smithfield's company-owned and contract hog farms. Once collected at the farms, the natural gas will then be transported to a central conditioning facility where it will be converted into RNG.
"RNG is an innovative and proven way to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture industry by converting it into clean renewable energy," said Thomas F. Farrell, II, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Dominion Energy.
Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) have recently announced initiatives to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions in their respective states over the next decade. RNG is anticipated to play an important role in supporting these initiatives and help both states achieve their greenhouse gas reduction targets.
"This partnership with two leading Virginia based companies shows the power of Virginia's largest industry—agriculture—to promote cleaner energy, sustainable family farms, and a brighter future for rural communities here in the Commonwealth and nationwide," said Bettina K. Ring, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry.
Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods are jointly investing at least $250 million in this initiative over the next decade with initial application on 90 percent of Smithfield's finishing spaces in North Carolina and Utah. In addition to these states, projects will be implemented in Virginia and have the potential for wider-scale application across the country.
Building on the success of Smithfield's Optima KV pilot project, the new joint venture will immediately expand the program to two larger farm clusters in Duplin and Sampson Counties, North Carolina; Waverly, Virginia; and Milford, Utah. Construction of these facilities is expected to begin in late 2018 with the first projects scheduled to be in-service in late 2019.
The companies say RNG will provide a new revenue stream for family farmers. Farmers who participate in the program will be paid for the energy their farms produce through long-term contracts.
"This project is a win for all involved and reflects Smithfield's innovative, value driven approach to sustainability," said Sullivan