Planet Biogas Solutions – Planetary Solutions
Planet Biogas Solutions is one of the leading suppliers of biogas plants, and its leaders have a strong personal stake in promoting the sector.
Having children can really change your perspective on things, and nobody knows this better than Derek Hundert.
“I was working for a large oil and gas company, working on massive, mechanically interesting projects, spending lots of money on big equipment. It was very exciting to be a part of something so large, with really interesting technology,” he recalls.
While Hundert enjoyed the work, the realisation that he and his wife would soon be having a baby put a very different viewpoint on things.
“It felt to me the way we were doing things in the conventional oil and gas sector wasn’t the way we should continue to supply our energy needs for future generations,” Hundert says. “My wife was pregnant with our first child, and I was asking myself, ‘even if this work you are doing is making a relative positive impact through work on efficiency programs, is that the legacy you want to leave behind’? That was the time the opportunity arose for me to be part of this renewable bio-energy company. After much research into the field of biogas and deliberation with my wife, we left our comfortable oil and gas life and took a chance at running a start-up company in 2012.”
A Personal Stake
This epiphany brought Hundert to Planet Biogas Solutions, a company founded by two shareholders Jörg Meyer zu Strohe and Hendrik Becker in 1998. The pair started designing and manufacturing biogas plants as part of their university thesis programme, and from these grassroots, the company was built.
Planet Biogas started out in the European biogas market but was already thinking internationally.
“We honed up our skills to become a biogas technology solutions provider for treatment of various organics input streams around the world,” Hundert tells us. “We’ve moved across Europe, and expanded into North and South America, along with, Southeast Asia. We have a world-class technology platform that transforms organic waste problems into solutions that help mitigate climate change.”
Like Hundert, Planet Biogas’s founders both had a personal stake in their products from the very beginning.
“I think our origin story is a powerful one,” Hundert says. “The value proposition we bring to the table is in our long-term view and life-cycle analysis in our designs. As part of our grassroots beginnings, the first digesters the company built were for our own family members, so that was a powerful incentive to make sure that in 15 or 20 years they would still be operating as intended.”
This does not just mean making the equipment reliable and easily maintained. It also means making sure the plants are adaptable to changes in the marketplaces where they operate.
“The equipment needs to be able to react to changes in the feedstock markets that drive the success of these biogas plants,” Hundert notes. “We take a long-term holistic approach, partnering with our clients to ensure both economic and environmental returns. We care about the impact our projects have on the environment; this is really important for us. We are invested in the methane abatement our projects offer our clientele. The plants have longevity because we believe they’re contributing positively to combatting climate change while returning value back to our clients.”
The Renewable Energy Cycle
The renewable energy sector has its own challenges to face, however. As Hundert observes, “I think it’s always been a bit of a boom-and-bust cycle for all kinds of renewable energies. When there’s a strong market cycle you need to be there to capture the opportunity and tangibly move the needle on the objectives these programmes are working towards.”
That has been one of the biggest challenges for Planet Biogas, looking at how it can diversify itself to allow its technology platforms to capture these market cycles when they are there but create revenue streams to last through those leaner times as well.
“We design our technology to be modular,” Hundert points out. “We have a suite of technologies on the feedstock side to process a variety of different organic input streams. Our digester platform is offered in both steel or concrete to enable us to adapt to local market conditions around the world. We have gone into Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) processing streams as well to round out our technology offering and enable PlanET to supply comprehensive solutions from organics processing through to pipeline quality RNG. We offer these robust solutions under one roof, giving us flexibility in the markets that we can enter. In addition to the technology offerings, PlanET provides legacy operation support and service on both its digesters and RNG platforms.”
It is a business model that means Planet Biogas is always operating, but for it to succeed the company needs expertise on site, which can be difficult in a flourishing, but still youthful labour market.
“The tricky part is the biogas market is rapidly emerging now in North America but is still a relatively immature market,” Hundert admits. “It means you’re onboarding people who don’t know much about biogas, people who don’t have ten or fifteen years in the industry but may have translatable skillsets from other industries. What we really look at is finding like-minded people who share our belief structure. We are creating something new, so we look for talented people who are excited to help us create an industry that will one day have a much wider breadth and offer tangible benefits for our planet. We make sure to take the time and invest in the teaching and training of the people we recruit. Your products and technology can only take you so far, in the end, it’s the performance of your people that will ultimately dictate your success.”
Looking to the future, Planet Biogas has big plans for its market in the United States, taking agricultural manure and using it as a source of RNG.
“Government driven Clean fuel standards and voluntary renewable gas targets are gaining more traction across North America and it’s a centre stage opportunity to help decarbonise both transportation and heating fuels,” Hundert says. “It’s about the reliability of these projects with their strong proven performance to reduce methane emissions while returning valuable nutrients back to our soils. When we look further to the horizon, we have more technology to offer the marketplace to tackle more problematic organic input streams. We are also looking into ways to further use anaerobic digestion as the basis for other renewable biofuels creation. On the liquid effluent side, there are exciting opportunities in the creation of organic fertilisers along with technologies focussed on water cleanliness, and nutrient recovery.”
It is a long time since Hundert first made his pivotal decision to move into the biogas sector, and he has no regrets.
“The wake-up moment for me was when I saw first-hand what was happening. I thought there must be better ways to satisfy our energy needs and I’d rather try and fail at being part of a new solution than be part of the status quo,” he tells us.