Home Month and Year March 2024 Achieving Net Zero (or Better)

Achieving Net Zero (or Better)

Green Impact Partners CEO Jesse Douglas on his company’s renewable natural gas projects.

Photo by Ewan Photo Video

When it comes to popularized phrases from the last few years, net zero is at the top of the list. Governments, businesses, NGOs, think-tanks and media have all touted net zero as a necessary goal and laudable achievement, a step in the right direction towards a cleaner planet. 


Referring to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) that’s produced and the amount that is removed from the atmosphere, net zero is reached when the amount of GHG produced equals the amount taken away. Of course, one doesn’t have to be zero carbon (produce no emissions) to achieve net zero; rather, whatever emissions are produced can be offset by carbon credits, sequestration, or other reductions and removal strategies.  


In terms of biofuels, a carbon intensity (CI) score refers to how much CO2 is released to produce ethanol and renewable natural gas (RNG). It is essentially the carbon footprint, and includes everything in the production and delivery of the fuel. The higher the score, the greater the CO2 impact. A CI score of 0 equates to carbon neutrality – net zero – a rare and difficult achievement. 


This is what makes Green Impact Partners (GIP) of Calgary so unique. The ethanol and RNG producer, with over $1 billion of projects in late-stage development and construction, generates 16,384 MMBtu/day of carbon negative energy. That’s the equivalent of taking 66,159 cars off the road. Net zero or betterno small feat.  


“We’re doing great,” says Jesse Douglas, CEO from his office in downtown Calgary. “We continue to grow. We’re adding people and having great success.”  


That success is derived primarily by taking waste and turning it into energy. “Our main focus is taking farm-based waste and producing energy from that,” he explains. “We are doing so while being net zero or better. When we measure our CI score, we are typically zero or negative. We’re actually removing carbon equivalents from the atmosphere and the production of energy and its lifecycle.”  


The beauty of GIP’s business is that it takes what would normally be a waste stream – such as farm waste (plant based or manure) – and turns it into energy. At the same time, its process mitigates the release of methane gas into the atmosphere (a natural result as waste decomposes in the normal course). 


“There is a ton of methane released from decomposing manure waste, wheats and other organic waste from farms,” Douglas points out, “so we decided this was where we can be most competitive and make the biggest impact. We chose farm-based waste as the source for the biofuels we produce.”  


Each year, approximately 11 to 13 per cent of wheat produced in Canada does not meet Grade A standards, meaning it’s not suitable for human consumption. GIP processes this wheat into renewable biofuels. “We don’t have crops that are grown specifically for our facilities [like biofuels in the U.S.], rather, we take wheat and some other grains that, for a variety of reasons, don’t meet food grade standards,” he says.  


Typically, those wastes were either burned or land applied, resulting in a carbon impact the farmer has to deal with. “Instead, we pay the farmers for that waste – we add about $150 million back into the farming community – for things they wouldn’t otherwise get to sell. And we prevent all the original methane and CO2 equivalent emissions from occurring.” 


GIP first produces ethanol (as grain can produce ethanol) and this maximizes the value and energy component of the waste. It then takes the byproduct of the ethanol production, known as stillage, and turns it into RNG through an anerobic digestion process. 


“We then take the waste product from that, put it into tanks where we control the temperature, mix them and allow the methanogens to work in a controlled environment,” he continues. “Those methanogens produce both methane and CO2. We strip the CO2 and other gases out of the methane, capture and sequester them. The methane is then put into the natural gas pipeline system for use as fuel.”  


An ingenious process that will occur at GIP’s flagship development, Future Energy Park: an innovative biofuels facility located on a 21 hectare (52 acre) site in an industrial area southeast of the intersection of Peigan Trail and Stoney Trail within the city of Calgary. Once completed, Future Energy Park will be North America’s largest carbon negative RNG and ethanol facility.  


“Future Energy Park has been in the planning and execution phase for almost 10 years,” Douglas notes. “We’ve spent over $50 million on the upfront design and regulatory process. We’ve got a few city approvals and things are going well and cooperatively with the city. We anticipate being in the ground with full construction this spring.”  


Construction costs are an estimated $1.2 billion over 24 months, with 800 construction jobs generated. “It is, to our knowledge, the only large scale net zero energy project in North America,” he adds.  


“We are also our own power producers,” Douglas says. “We produce our own heat and power on the site via a co-generation facility. We have a water treatment facility that uses that power, and we completely recycle all our water, then capture all of the CO2 emissions from the biofuels production process. We end up with a biogenic, food grade, CO2.” 


Once operational, Douglas anticipates Future Energy Park to be the largest producer of RNG in Canada, by a wide margin, at around four million MMBtu per day. It will also generate $40 million per year in tax revenue to local, provincial and federal governments.  


While Future Energy Park is its primary project, GIP has other similar projects, all focused on being net zero or better. Its GreenGas Colorado project is a farm-based facility that processes manure into RNG. “We built it through COVID,” Douglas explains. “We made an almost $100 million investment into it.”  


GIP also has several water, recycling and waste facilities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. For example, its Rycroft facility takes produced water mostly from the oil and gas industry, recycles and disposes of it.  


“Our Claresholm facility takes solids and other recycling products,” he says. “Could be waxes, wood waste residues, oil and gas based residues. There’s all sorts of stuff pushed through there. Typically we strip the commodities [i.e. oil] out of the water, clean up and blend that oil and put that recycled oil back into the pipelines.”  


With a background in oil and gas, Douglas, who is originally from Edmonton, views RNG as a compliment to traditional oil and gas, rather than a competitor to it. “Even if we took all the waste in North America and found a way to produce RNG from them, we don’t think that it ever becomes a true competitor to traditional oil and gas,” he reasons. “But if producers of natural gas blend theirs with ours, they can be cleaner than wind and solar and produce a much more reliable fuel. Using and working with RNG is far cheaper than paying the carbon tax. We think RNG is a budget and environmentallyfriendly compliment to the current energy system.”  


Indeed, Douglas notes that when it comes to the cleanest transition or renewable fuels, biofuels are well ahead of traditional renewables: “On almost every measure, when it comes to environmental impact, biofuels are better. This is where our focus came from and why we started to aggregate waste streams from farmers.” 


It’s this dedication to doing the right thing, whether popular or not, that guides GIP’s culture and its over 100 employees. “When it comes to equity and equality, we treat equity as making opportunity more equal amongst those that might not have it, but not necessarily measuring it by having a certain number of people in the boardroom. I really do like more equal representation, but it’s with intention of having different thought, not necessarily trying to achieve some quota.”  


GIP does the same with its First Nations partners. “We are not offering a specific job or setting a quota, but we do provide opportunity,” Douglas says. “We will provide better access to education and a better reach out so that the opportunity is now equitable. But we don’t think that equity of outcome is the right way to measure anything, and we work very hard to make sure that we’re doing the right thing.” 


Douglas leads GIP with the mantra high freedom, high accountability: “We want to make sure that you’re given room to be creative, to succeed. We don’t manage minutes, we’re not policy driven.”  


“We encourage our people to be involved in community sport and things like that,” he adds. “And certainly we’ll match their sponsorships, and we’ll sponsor our employees’ kids’ teams and things like that.”  


GIP may be a rarity in terms of being truly net zero, and that is because it is a rarity in what it does. Focused on its goals, with a dedicated leadership team and empowered employees, it is a company on a mission to do good, in more ways than one.