Amp Renew CEO talks renewable natural gas, part 1

Grant Zimmerman, CEO of Amp Renew.Grant Zimmerman, CEO of Amp Renew.

Hard Working Trucks recently interviewed Amp Renew CEO Grant Zimmerman at ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. In part 1, he talks about his company’s start in the renewable natural gas business at one of the nation’s largest dairy farms. 

There’s a scene in “Back to the Future 2” when Doc, played by the talented Christopher Lloyd, is hastily fueling the DeLorean time machine with household garbage like banana peels and discarded beer.

While Doc’s Mr. Fusion may be a long way off from powering the nation’s vehicles, the notion of using fuel produced from garbage is not.

A growing number of fleets are turning to renewable natural gas (RNG), or biogas, which can be produced from a variety of organic sources.

While natural gas is considered a fossil fuel, renewable natural gas is not, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC).

Natural gas, according to the AFDC, is the result of ancient interactions involving organic matter, heat and pressure. It’s most often extracted from wells.

Renewable natural gas also comes from organic matter. However, instead of relying on the earth’s laborious and time-intensive methods, man significantly speeds up the process by creating biodigesters where the organic matter is deposited and processed through biochemical reactions.

The raw methane gas collected from this man-made venture must first be purified before it can be used in a vehicle.

“This process is called conditioning or upgrading, and involves the removal of water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other trace elements,” the AFDC reports on its website.

RNG can be added to natural gas pipelines and used in CNG applications, which has attracted more fleets. The California Air Resources Board, or CARB, has reported that RNG can result in up to a 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions when compared to diesel and gasoline.

RNG continues to be collected from a variety of sources, including landfills, waste water, agricultural areas and the food industry. Waste water treatment plants alone have the potential of providing enough RNG to produce up to 12 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the AFDC.

Amp Renew Logo 04Amp Renew, a biogas company recently launched by CNG company Amp Americas, creates RNG from manure obtained from dairy cows at Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana.

Amp Renew recently secured RNG contracts with Dillon Transport and Ruan Transportation Management Systems. Both companies will be fueling a portion of their fleets at Amp CNG’s public-access fueling stations.

Hard Working Trucks interviewed Amp Renew CEO Grant Zimmerman, a former Enron manager and associate principal at McKinsey & Company, to learn more about Amp Renew and the emerging RNG market. The interview took place last week at ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif.

HWT: What excites you the most about RNG?

Zimmerman: I’ve been in the energy space a long time and I think the thing that I’m most excited about is the transformative potential of natural gas as a way to get diesel off the road and really clean up our entire transportation infrastructure starting with the biggest users of fuel which are heavy duty trucks.

HWT: Tell me about Amp Renew’s involvement with RNG.

Zimmerman: Amp CNG started as a renewable energy company about five years ago. The first project was a biodigester at Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana. That farm is one of the largest dairy farms in the country—15,000 cows all making a 150 pounds of waste every day. And you’ve got to do something with it. Well, you can pile it up…you can put it back on the fields. Most of the options are stinky, and part of the same thing that makes them stinky also releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Another alternative, which we do at the farm, is that we put the manure into a digester, which is a big concrete box with water and some bacteria that helps to break down the manure and capture the methane and other gases that come off of it. Next, we put it through some equipment that extracts everything that’s not methane. Then we take the methane that’s left over and put it into trucks. These are the same trucks that haul milk to the processing plants. So there’s a closed loop there that makes the greenhouse gas foot print of the whole thing essentially zero.

We’re very excited about it because it takes natural gas which is already much cleaner than diesel, but it’s still a fossil fuel, and even though it emits less greenhouse gas than burning diesel would in a truck, there’s still some greenhouse gas. When you use renewable sources you can eliminate up to 100 percent because you’re basically capturing gas that otherwise would have off-gassed into the atmosphere anyway. And so we’re incredibly excited about that because it’s a vast improvement over diesel and actually takes it all the way to sustainable when we’re able to utilize waste gas sources to power vehicles.

In part 2 of “Amp Renew CEO talks renewable gas,” Zimmerman will talk about the RNG market, competition in the growing alt fuel industry, RNG incentives and biodigester ownership.