Smithfield Foods, Inc., Smithfield, Va., and Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE), St. Louis, Mo., formed a joint venture called Monarch Bioenergy to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) across Smithfield’s hog farms in Missouri. This partnership converts manure collected from Smithfield farms into RNG, while simultaneously delivering ecological services and developing wildlife habitat. Once complete, all Smithfield company-owned finishing farms in Missouri will have the infrastructure to produce RNG, resulting in approximately 1.3 million dekatherms of RNG annually, which is the equivalent to eliminating 130,000 gasoline vehicles.

“This joint venture represents our continued commitment to doing business in a way that is good for our planet and its people,” says Kenneth Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods. “This innovative collaboration creates value for our company and our partners, and benefits the environment as we work to feed the world’s growing population.”

Monarch Bioenergy builds upon the first phase of Smithfield and RAE’s “manure-to-energy” project across nine Smithfield farms in northern Missouri, which is said to be the largest project of its kind. This joint venture will install and utilize infrastructure on Smithfield’s Missouri farms to capture methane emissions from hog farms and convert them into pipeline-quality natural gas, which will be distributed to RNG markets nationwide.

The biogas created by Monarch Bioenergy is transported through a gas gathering network and purified in a centrally located gas cleaning system designed and installed by RAE. This project produces biogas that has received the lowest carbon intensity score ever recorded. Biogas with low carbon intensity, such as that created by Monarch Bioenergy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and achieves air quality benefits.  

Monarch Bioenergy will also sustainably harvest native prairie plants and cover crops that have been restored on highly-erodible lands. The biomass will be digested to produce additional RNG in Missouri. This project leverages harvested prairie plants to create biomass for RNG production while also providing wildlife habitat for monarch butterflies. These are critical components of Smithfield and RAE’s holistic vision for creating renewable energy in a way that utilizes land resources, prevents fertilizer runoff into watersheds, improves soil organic matter and cools the atmosphere through natural transpiration while creating critical new wildlife and pollinator habitat.

“From their leadership in creating renewable energy and in conservation, Smithfield is changing what it means to be a food company,” says Rudi Roeslein, president of RAE. “Smithfield’s willingness to embrace the power of prairie proves the industry can play a meaningful role in seizing the economic benefits of conservation.”

Commitment to sustainability

This joint venture helps both Smithfield and RAE meet their companywide sustainability goals. Monarch Bioenergy is supporting RAE’s goal to restore 30 million acres of land to native prairie plants strategically located around waterways, streams, rivers and highly erodible lands.

“We are extremely grateful that Smithfield is committed to this vision. It begins with converting methane from hog manure to renewable natural gas. But, that’s the tip of the iceberg. We hope to show the agriculture community, with the help of our joint venture partner Smithfield, how to take all these steps and make an enormous impact for energy, the environment and wildlife,” Roeslein says.

This project is implementing technologies to allow smaller-scale operations to implement “manure-to-energy” projects, supplemented with cover crop and native prairie biomass, to reap economic and environmental benefits. The standardized gas purification systems will be scalable, able to accommodate small to medium-sized finishing farms and allow for incremental increases as farms grow or harvest more biomass to supplement manure.

Monarch Bioenergy is also part of Smithfield Renewables, Smithfield’s platform to unify and accelerate its carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts.