City Commission and DTE Energy partner with The Rapid to fuel vehicles with renewable natural gas

The Grand Rapids City Commission recently approved a one-year agreement between DTE Energy and The Rapid for the purchase of compressed natural gas (CNG), which will be utilized to fill a fleet of CNG-fueled vehicles at The Rapid’s recently completed CNG bus fueling facility, located at 1020 Market Ave. SW.
The city will pump renewable natural gas (RNG) from the Environmental Services Department’s biodigester into DTE’s pipeline, which will transport the RNG to The Rapid’s fueling facility. 
This flagship three-way partnership benefits each party both in the provision of responsible, renewable energy as well as by generating revenue. DTE will receive a small portion of the revenue for the marketing of RNG and The Rapid will receive a small portion for acting as the RNG pathway.
RNG will be produced by the city, sold to The Rapid fueling station and then purchased by the city to fuel vehicles, both saving money and creating sustainable energy. The partnership agreement sets the CNG fuel cost to $1.74 per gallon, compared to the cost of diesel fuel, which is currently $4.72.
“The partnership speaks to innovative ways that local governments can work with regional partners and illustrates the city living out its core values in terms of collaboration, innovation and sustainability,” said James Hurt, Grand Rapids’ managing director of public services.
“DTE and The Rapid have been excellent partners throughout the process. We really look forward to this as a long relationship with them,” Hurt says.
Following the recent construction of the city’s biodigester — a device that uses bacteria to turn organic waste matter into burnable fuel — the city commission realized its potential for multipurpose use. In addition to waste management, the biodigester, located at the Water Resource Recovery Facility on Market Avenue, allows the city to produce RNG, a valuable market commodity.

Courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids
Hurt says the dialogue about a partnership between the separate entities has been years in the making. The biodigester was completed and began initially processing water waste in late 2021. It now also operates as a fully functional means to repurpose and deliver RNG to DTE and The Rapid fueling station. RNG produced at the city’s biodigester will also be used to fuel DTE-owned CNG stations throughout the state.

“The willingness [of] the city to have an open mind to these project ideas and to hear us out at the beginning was important,” says Tony Muzzin, manager of business development at DTE Energy. “They've been incredibly great to work with. It's something that we value in the partnership tremendously. I don't think this would have been as easy in other communities at all. So I think our relationship with the city and working on this for years really helped bring this project together. It's a good success story.” 
The biodigester is designed to transport the solids from the city’s wastewater system, as well as waste generated from large-scale food producers in town, through pipelines and into large tanks. There, it is broken down into a more manageable volume. RNG is created when the methane biogas — a byproduct of the biodigestion process — is cleaned to meet utility pipeline specifications.
When a vehicle is fueled with RNG instead of conventional fuel, the vehicle’s harmful nitrogen-oxide and greenhouse emissions are significantly reduced.

“This project is an excellent example of the innovative ways local governments can work with regional and commercial partners to benefit our communities,” says Mark Washington, Grand Rapids’ city manager. 
“We’re able to reduce the amount of waste we’re sending to disposal sites, fuel our fleet as well as other fleets with low carbon and healthier RNG, and the city is saving money on the purchase of CNG. This also will support the city’s goal to reduce our carbon emissions footprint by 85% by 2030 — which is a best in class goal and includes our fleet,” Washington says.
The fleet of CNG-fueled vehicles includes garbage trucks, pickup trucks and city buses. Washington says the city will offset some of the biodigester’s costs by selling the RNG under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard Program and earning renewable identification numbers (RINs), which are credits used for compliance, similar to renewable energy credits (RECs) for solar and wind.  

“We are proud to be working on this transformative project contributing to the waste and emission-reduction goals of DTE, the city and The Rapid,” says Joi Harris, president of DTE Gas
“DTE is committed to a clean Michigan future and projects such as these play an important role in our journey toward that aspiration. This RNG will supply DTE’s natural gas fueling stations as well as power The Rapid’s buses and the city’s fleet vehicles. The biodigester will also contribute RNG to our voluntary customer program, Natural Gas Balance, which allows customers to offset their homes’ greenhouse gas emissions,” Harris says.
RNG fuel holds some of the lowest carbon intensity of any on-road vehicle fuel. The Rapid will be able to utilize this fuel immediately in their fleet without the need for massive infrastructure changes or investments. The Rapid’s fleet currently consists of 161 buses, 98 of which will run on RNG. Diesel buses will continue to be retired and replaced by RNG vehicles.

“This partnership is a win-win-win for The Rapid, the city of Grand Rapids and the region,” says Deb Prato, CEO of The Rapid. 
“We’re fueling a cleaner fleet and keeping more waste out of landfills,” Prato says. “This innovative partnership represents the creativity and collaboration that is necessary to develop strategies across multiple sectors to create better outcomes for the climate and the community.”
The Rapid’s CNG fueling facility is currently fully operational and the partners are planning a grand opening of the city’s biodigester facility at a future date. Read more about the city of Grand Rapids’ biodigester here.

Photos courtesy of Kristina Bird, Bird + Bird Studio and City of Grand Rapids.

This series is underwritten by The Rapid and is editorially independent in our exploration of these themes.
About Enrique Olmos: Enrique is a freelance writer, musician, and photographer living in Grand Rapids. When he’s not writing for Rapid Growth Media, he writes about music for Local Spins, plays keys with Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery, and drinks copious amounts of espresso. 
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