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How bp turns landfill waste into renewable natural gas

Release date:
6 May 2024
A man works an Archaea Energy plant

Among the waste decomposing at farms and landfills across the US, bp saw something it liked: an abundant source of energy, one that could provide the company with a new revenue stream and another way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

bp had that concept in mind when it acquired Archaea Energy in 2022, adding a business that turns methane produced at private, municipal and agricultural waste sites into electricity and pipeline-ready renewable natural gas (RNG).

 

Archaea works with dairy farms and landfills across 32 states, converting waste gas directly into electricity or turning it into RNG.

 

The result of that work is energy – valuable, reliable and with lower lifecycle emissions than traditional fossil fuels. 

A headshot of Archaea’s CEO, Starlee Sykes
“RNG is a promising new frontier in renewable energy, and we’re determined to lead the way. With innovation, passion and expertise, we can set the bar for smart RNG development, quickly scaling up and continuing to deliver strong returns for bp.” Starlee Sykes, Archaea CEO

By acquiring Archaea, bp immediately became America’s largest RNG producer, marking a milestone in the company’s efforts to rapidly expand its bioenergy business – one of five transition growth engines for bp, alongside convenience, EV charging, hydrogen, and renewables & power.

 

Last year, Archaea produced more than 11 trillion British thermal units of RNG from its locations across the US. Outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, the business operates one of the highest-capacity RNG plants in the country, accepting about 22,500 standard cubic feet of landfill gas per minute for processing – enough fuel to heat nearly 92,000 homes annually, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Landfill Gas to Energy calculator

 

bp now aims to rapidly scale up Archaea’s production, with plans to install many more RNG plants at landfills this decade. It believes scaling Archaea can help drive bp’s biogas volumes up more than 500% over that time, to about 70,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

 

In many ways, Archaea is a vivid, tangible example of bp’s transformation into an integrated energy company.

 

With demand for RNG rising and US policies beginning to support growth of the sector, conditions are right for quickly delivering strong returns from bioenergy.

Beyond the positive financial and production impacts, bp sees potential to support its customers’ decarbonization goals and reduce the lifecycle carbon intensity of the energy it produces – part of the company’s ambition to become net zero by 2050 or sooner.

 

Here’s how bp turns waste into renewable natural gas:

 

1. Converting waste gas into RNG

Archaea partners with landfills and farms to capture natural emissions from their decomposing organic waste, which naturally releases biogas – a combination of methane and various impurities including carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide.

 

Archaea’s RNG plants use vacuum pressure to gather those emissions, then remove the impurities and destroy them using thermal oxidizers, also known as thermal incinerators. They then compress the separated methane for transport as RNG to users through existing pipelines.

 

The removal of non-methane organic compounds during the cleaning and conditioning process can reduce odors and possible health risks.

2. Environmental benefits of producing RNG

The methane gas that escapes from decomposing organic waste is a potent greenhouse gas. According to the EPA, it has a global warming potential 28 times greater than carbon dioxide.

 

Reducing methane emissions can achieve significant near-term progress in mitigating global climate change. For facilities that are not already required to mitigate such emissions, an RNG project can reduce methane emissions substantially.

 

On the user side, combusting RNG emits carbon dioxide, which has less planet-warming potency compared to simply allowing the methane to flow into the atmosphere. 

 

If used as replacement for traditional transportation fuels such as gasoline or diesel, RNG can have up to 95% lower carbon emissions, according to a US Department of Energy study. It can also improve air quality by reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

 

Last year, Archaea produced more than 11 trillion British thermal units of RNG from landfills and farms across 32 states. Its 2024 project schedule alone could avoid approximately 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to the carbon emissions of almost 226,000 cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's calculator.

An infographic that says "11 MMBtu - Archaea's RNG production in 2023"
An infographic that says "13,000 homes could be heated by Archaea's Medora Indiana Plant"
An infographic that says "600 Archaea employees as of Spring 2024"

3. Extracting value from waste – and RNG

RNG is a pipeline-quality, low carbon fuel that is interchangeable with traditional natural gas. It can be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • For power generation and heavy industry
  • As a lower-carbon transportation fuel
  • For heating homes and buildings
  • To create liquefied natural gas or sustainable aviation fuel – one of bp’s growth engines
  • As a feedstock for renewable hydrogen – another one of bp’s growth engines

Sources of biogas for RNG production include landfills, animal manure and wastewater treatment facilities. Landfills are the largest of these sources and produce methane reliably, making them an attractive feedstock for RNG.

 

That’s why Archaea is focusing largely on landfills in planning for rapid expansion.

 

4. Selling and distributing the RNG

Archaea sells the RNG it produces through long-term offtake agreements. It also has exclusive gas rights with landfill owners to ensure methane supply well into the future. 

 

As with bp’s entire corporate strategy, integration between its businesses adds value.

 

bp’s sophisticated Trading & Shipping business, for example, provides a direct pathway for moving and selling Archaea’s RNG, electricity and renewable-energy credits to more than 5,000 North American customers.

 

Other bp growth engines such as EV charging and low-carbon hydrogen could provide future pathways for use of Archaea’s electricity and RNG, potentially increasing demand for both.

How bp can quickly scale Archaea 

Archaea’s growth will be helped by installing “off-the-shelf” production plants at the roughly 80 sites in its project pipeline. Its unique platform, known as the Archaea Modular Design, streamlines the time it takes to construct RNG plants, which are traditionally custom-built. Archaea can place modular units on skids with interchangeable components for faster development.

 

In 2023, Archaea tested its modular platform in Medora, Indiana, where the business that year installed a new RNG plant near a waste and recycling landfill.

 

The plant can process 3,200 cubic feet of landfill gas per minute into RNG – enough to heat about 13,000 homes annually, according to the EPA’s Landfill Gas Energy Benefits Calculator.

 

Archaea aims to bring online more than a dozen new plants in the next two years using the modular design.

 

RNG spells jobs

Archaea directly employs more than 600 people at 50 sites across the US, typically hiring local people to run day-to-day operations. By the end of 2025, the business expects to add more than 100 additional workers as it expands to new locations.


Archaea’s RNG facilities also support neighboring industries, including construction, engineering, equipment vendors and utilities.