MSW may be the best biofuel feedstock for producing ethanol


Here’s a perfect example of the phrase “one man‘s trash is another man’s treasure.”  That is, converting municipal solid waste (MSW) from your local garbage company to help run your vehicle.

Fulcrum BioEnergy is a California-based developer, integrating proven renewable energy technologies, who will produce cellulosic ethanol at their new plant, Sierra BioFuels, 20 miles east of Reno, NV.


Like other ethanol producers, Fulcrum’s approach to creating ethanol will help lessen our dependence on foreign oil and will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared to gasoline production.  And they will create jobs.  Perhaps more important are the unique benefits of Fulcrum’s advanced biofuel technology, so here’s the “treasure” part:


• Fulcrum utilizes biodegradable MSW (garbage) as the feedstock, thereby slowing the filling and creation of landfills, as well as slowing the associated creation of methane, the most potent GHG.

• Cost of raw MSW feedstock is held low and constant due to 20-30 year contracts with waste management companies serving metropolitan areas.  Per gallon costs are estimated at 50 cents versus $1.55 for corn and $1.20 for agricultural waste.  Even higher for various algae sources.

• Fulcrum plants will be near city waste management infrastructure, near landfills and ethanol blending stations to reduce cost of operations and reduce GHG emissions from transportation.

• The MSW fuelstock avoids the societal food vs. fuel debate of food- based ethanol sources, as well as price fluctuations in (corn) commodity markets.

Here’s how Fulcrum integrates both new and existing technologies to convert garbage to ethanol “treasure.”  It’s basically a two-step “thermochemical” process.  Step 1 involves a gasifier and Plasma Arc that converts the MSW into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, commonly referred to as synthesis gas (syngas).  Older MSW-to-energy facilities burn MSW to create heat for generating electricity.  Fulcrum’s gasification process does not use combustion to create syngas, but uses proven technology developed by InEnTec. LLC, Step 2 is an alcohol synthesis process, that catalytically converts the syngas to 100% ethanol.  This technology is licensed exclusively from the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Since its inception in 2007, Fulcrum has focused its efforts on the Sierra BioFuels project, securing MSW feedstock and completing testing of its new technologies  Permitting for their first plant is near completion at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), just east of Reno.  Construction will begin in 2010, with ethanol production set to begin early 2012.  At capacity, this first plant anticipates converting 90,000 tons of MSW to 10.5 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol. (see illustration of new plant)

Future Fulcrum plants will have greater capacity to meet demand created by of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  This legislation mandates annual production increases of ethanol to 36 billion gallons per year (GPY) by 2022.  Food-based biofuels will soon max out at 15 billion GPY, leaving the gap of 21 billion GPY to be made up by Advanced Biofuels, such as MSW feedstock. Fulcrum’s current long-term contracts with waste management companies will provide 12 million tons of MSW per year.  And with their build-out of future plants, they will have the capacity to generate approximately 1 billion GPY of ethanol.  (see ethanol production time chart)

Fulcrum is privately held and financed by US Renewables Group and Rustic Canyon Partners and is looking to raise additional funding for the construction of the Sierra BioFuels Plant.  Early indications are that Fulcrum has a renewable energy plan that is technically, financially, politically and socially sound – and appea ling.  A great example of the proverb “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Article also appears at my energy column.


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