Renovare Environmental sells digester business while fate of West Virginia plant still pending

Dive Brief:

  • Renovare Environmental has sold its aerobic food waste digester business and related software assets to TraQiQ, a Washington-based technology company. The transaction closed on Jan. 5, according to a financial filing.
  • TraQiQ paid Renovare $150,000, issued shares of low-value TraQiQ stock (some of which will be kept in escrow) and assumed liability for nearly $3.02 million in debt owed to a fund of Michaelson Capital Partners.
  • Renovare’s mechanical biological treatment facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia, was not part of the transaction, according to sources. It is considered to be among the excluded assets listed in the purchase agreement.

Dive Insight:

Renovare, formerly known as BioHiTech Global, once had plans to build multiple mechanical biological treatment facilities in the U.S. It also planned to expand sales of small-scale aerobic digesters, which use enzymes to break down food waste, to cruise ships and other large commercial customers.

Instead, the company has been on a downward trajectory for more than a year due to a series of permitting, legal and financial challenges. Its filings from recent years show consistent net losses and growing debt.

As of last March, the company had plans to acquire Harp Renewables (another small-scale digester company) for $20 million. In June, the plan had shifted to Harp acquiring Renovare. By September, Renovare CEO Tony Fuller had stepped down and the Harp deal was still pending. The company’s latest filing shows that it locked in a purchase agreement with TraQiQ on Dec. 30, with no mention of Harp.

Harp did not respond to a request for comment. Renovare CFO Brian Essman, believed to be one of the company’s few remaining employees following layoffs, did not respond to a request for comment. TraQiQ CEO Ajay Sikka was not available for comment.

TraQiQ is not known by sources to have an existing presence in the food waste sector. The company’s latest quarterly filing said it “provides software as a service that enables clients to build and manage a network of contract task workers,” citing examples “such as PC repair or food delivery.” TraQiQ, which is registered as a California company, said at the time that its operations were “concentrated in India, Southeast Asia and Latin America.”

Renovare’s digester technology includes a cloud-based software component, which sources say could possibly be relevant to TraQiQ’s business.

Renovare’s $33 million West Virginia facility, which is the company’s primary remaining asset, is still in limbo. The plant, located on land owned by the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, could process 110,000 tons per year of mixed waste into solid recovered fuel (after recovering certain recyclables) for use in facilities such as cement kilns. It officially suspended operations last year, after opening in 2019, forcing the waste authority to redirect its material elsewhere.

While the site was constructed in partnership with Entsorga, an Italian company that still has a minority stake, that relationship deteriorated over time. Entsorga sued Renovare over $1.1 million in owed payments last year, in a case which remains pending in federal court. No attorneys are registered in Renovare’s defense.

Christopher Maloney, CEO of Entsorga’s North American division, said via email that he hadn’t heard anything about next steps for the plant. Maloney said the company remains “interested in working with a new owner to assess the potential restart of the plant with the Entsorga technology, but only after it is completely cleaned out.”

Renovare left significant volumes of trash in the facility, which repeatedly caught on fire according to the Panhandle News Network. Apple Valley Waste, a subsidiary of Gold Medal Environmental (which once had a role in the project itself), was contracted by Renovare to mitigate the issue.

“Apple Valley Waste had been engaged to address the extreme risks to the community. In December, we completed the removal of the material that had been the recurring cause of the fire and health risks to date,” said Gold Medal CEO Darren Gruendel via email. “Work remains to be done and our engagement is evolving accordingly.”

Clint Hogbin, chair of the county waste authority, said he was pleased with the cleaning progress and noted that multiple interested parties have been touring the facility in recent months. He declined to share specific names, but said some were waste companies.

While the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection previously told Renovare it had to resume operations by Oct. 4, 2022 or begin permanent closure of the facility, local sources are not aware of any further state action. The agency did not respond to requests for comment.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that at some point we’ll get this back operational,” said Hogbin. “I think the DEP is in the same position as the county solid waste authority in that everybody wants to see this place back up.”

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