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Exclusive: Q&A with Vanguard Renewables’ Brian Tracey

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The International Biogas Congress & Expo returns to Brussels on 18-19 June, and will once again bring together world-class speakers and exhibitors. Brian Tracey, director of gas sales at Vanguard Renewables, is amongst them
Can you give us an introduction to Vanguard Renewables and the work that you do?
Vanguard Renewables was founded in 2014 and is the largest developer, owner and operator of anaerobic digesters in the US. We work with manure-only and codigestion (manure, food and beverage waste) systems, which we continue to develop across the US.
The past few years have been instrumental for the company’s growth, as we were acquired by funds managed by BlackRock in 2022, and in 2023, we announced the largest US voluntary RNG offtake agreement with AstraZeneca.
We have 15 projects in operation and 30 others in various stages of development. As the director of gas sales, I work nationally with utilities and corporations that are interested in buying RNG from our codigestion projects to help them reach their decarbonisation targets.
In addition to collaborating directly with customers, I work closely with the Vanguard development and interconnection teams to ensure deliverability of our RNG to end users and to those emerging markets or use cases for RNG such as for hydrogen, SAF or maritime bio-methanol to name a few.
You will be a speaker at the 2024 International Biogas Congress & Expo. What will your talk address in particular?
In my talk, I will be speaking to how and why we are seeing an increasing share of RNG moving towards the voluntary market in the US. A lot of it is connected to the European markets and how the demand and use cases within Europe as well as the partnerships that European companies are forging are driving these trends in the US.
I’ll also cover how the increased partnerships between large European companies and the US RNG market have set the stage to integrate US RNG into fuel mixes for international markets, accelerating global biogas growth.
Will this be your first time at the 2024 International Biogas Congress & Expo? If so, what has attracted you to the event?
Yes, this is my first time attending the International Biogas Congress and Expo. Over the past few years, we have increasingly turned our attention to international partnerships so our awareness and eagerness to participate in international events has grown.
The European anaerobic digestion market is much more mature than the US market and while they are different marketplaces, we continue to learn a lot from European case studies.
Our robust partnership with AstraZeneca catapulted us into the international market and as we continue to build our strategic partnerships for offtake and development, we anticipate having more European influence and partnerships.
As director of gas sales at Vanguard Renewables, are you able to tell us about some initiatives you are focusing on with the company?
One initiative I have continued to focus on is our partnership with AstraZeneca. We have been able to evolve this partnership past a gas offtake agreement and into a more involved programme that aligns our business models to collaborate on our dedicated projects that are mutually beneficial.
We are working with their team and tapping into their technical resources to collaborate on three priority areas. We will be pursuing improvements in areas such as capacity and design efficiencies, technology innovations to introduce AI and experimentation in a digital twin system, and to make improvements in the AD supply chain. This is an exciting time for our company; we are thrilled to have AstraZeneca working with us, and it really demonstrates their commitment to renewable energy and impacting the space.
What do you feel are the major challenges facing the renewables sector, and how do you think they can be overcome?
Right now, there are a lot of challenges on RNG regulations and related greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting matters. In the US the regulations are constantly developing and continuing to take shape. We try to be as involved as we can through input with the RNG Coalition and similar coalition working groups.
This evolving landscape goes hand in hand with the need for more education and understanding around RNG and its potential as a decarbonisation solution and its other use cases.
We know there will continue to be some growing pains and evolution of frameworks in the US and beyond, but we hope that some consensus and continuity can be found in regulations between different international bodies.
You have significant high-level experience in renewables. Have you seen an acceleration of progress in the sector during that time? If so, in what ways?
The green power industry has exploded, and we’ve seen that the US power grid is struggling to keep up with the volume of project developments in the US. This has led to developments in energy storage assets that have been incorporated over the past 10 years to help ease the transition to more intermittent wind and solar resources on the regional power grids. Having been a part of both utility scale and distributed generation power developments and seeing that growth, I am now seeing a similar evolution in renewable natural gas. It is a similar patchwork market in the US and there will be adoptions at a state-by-state level for green gas standards as there likely will be no federal policy established in the near future. I think in the coming years we will see a growth curve for renewable fuels such as biogas like we’ve seen with green power over the past two decades-plus.
What is your main focus for the rest of this year?
My focus continues to be to search for and grow committed partnerships with large corporations and gas utilities to help decarbonise their operations or pipeline networks and educate others who are looking to do the same. The growth of these partnerships includes new market opportunities and other ways to commercialise our potential assets such as other products generated from our RNG process such as organic fertiliser or food/beverage grade CO2 collections from our AD systems.
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