History and Firsts: Sustainable Fuels and Farms
The founding of Ag-Grid Energy is the story of one woman’s dual vision: to create a business model for sustainable production of biofuel that would be carbon negative, and to make family farms more sustainable by sharing profits from the sale of biofuel as electricity or renewable natural gas (RNG).
Rashi Akki, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, left her 20-year career at DuPont with deep experience in industrial biosciences and renewable energy. In her final 3 years there, she had focused on biofuels and anaerobic digestion, visiting farms in Germany and Italy, which were the world leaders in this technology.
Dr. Akki wanted to bring anaerobic digestion to the U.S., but only if she could do it in a new way that would make the process carbon negative. The European process created significant carbon emissions because its digesters used only 10% cow manure; the other 90% came from corn and hay crops grown and fermented strictly for use as biofuel.
In 2016, Dr. Akki finalized the business model and formed Ag-Grid Energy. A key was supplementing the cow manure with commercial food waste from area businesses. But the model’s signature element was offering each farm family a partnership through which they are guaranteed a share of profits from selling the fuel produced by the digester on their property.
Ag-Grid was the first – and remains the only – developer to share profits with farmers.
Akki started seeking Farm Partners by calling on small- to medium-size dairy farms in Massachusetts. The state had just passed a law banning commercial food waste from landfills, and its electricity prices were among the highest in the nation, so it was the obvious place to pursue the first project.
Four Farm Partners with 180 to 400 milking cows signed on in the first nine months, two in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut after it passed a similar food waste ban. All four projects are operational.
Having gained experience and expertise, Ag-Grid has much larger projects under construction and in development in 2023, including one with a New York Farm Partner that has 2,100 milking cows and one with a Michigan Farm Partner that has 4,000 milking cows. Also in the pipeline are a second project in New York, a second project in Michigan and one each in California and Pennsylvania.
Along the journey to today, multiple competitors have entered the market and multinational corporations have invested in or purchased biofuel-to-energy developers. Ag-Grid’s industry position was enhanced in 2021 when UGI Energy Services became a minority partner.
Ag-Grid also has continued to achieve notable firsts:
- First developer to be granted permits for an anaerobic digester in Michigan
- First farm anaerobic digester in Massachusetts to add a food depackager, enabling it to accept solid packaged food waste, remove metal, cardboard and plastic for recycling, and deliver organic waste slurry to the digester
- First farm anaerobic digester in Connecticut to accept food waste and first to begin producing electricity