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Fulcrum Bioenergy breaks ground on Phase 2 of Sierra Biofuels plant; 1st garbage-to-fuels project

Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. has started site construction for Phase 2 of its first waste-to-fuels project, the Sierra BioFuels Plant (Sierra). Sierra will be the nation’s first commercial-scale plant converting a municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstock—i.e., household garbage that would otherwise be landfilled—into a low-carbon, renewable transportation fuel product.

We’ve spent ten years developing, designing, testing, improving and demonstrating this new process so that it is now ready for commercial deployment. By converting waste into low-carbon transportation fuel, Fulcrum provides a real solution to the aviation industry’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

—Jim Macias, Fulcrum’s President and CEO

The feedstock used in Fulcrum’s process consists primarily of the organic material recovered from MSW. The prepared MSW is gasified using a ThermoChem Recovery International gasification system. During the gasification process, the prepared MSW feedstock rapidly heats up upon entry into the steam-reforming gasifier and almost immediately converts to syngas. A venturi scrubber captures and removes any entrained particulate, and the syngas is further cooled in a packed gas cooler scrubber. The cleaned syngas is then processed through an amine system to capture and remove sulfur and carbon dioxide.

The syngas then enters the secondary gas clean-up section that contains compression to increase syngas to the pressure required by the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. The end syngas product is very clean with zero sulfur content.

The FT portion of Fulcrum’s process is an adaptation of the well-established Fischer-Tropsch process. In the FT process, the purified syngas is processed through a fixed-bed tubular reactor where it reacts with a proprietary catalyst to form three intermediate FT products: a Heavy Fraction FT Liquids (HFTL) product; a Medium Fraction FT Liquids (MFTL) product; and a Light Fraction FT Liquids (LFTL) product, commonly called Naphtha.

The Naphtha is recycled to the partial oxidation unit with remaining tail gas to be reformed to hydrogen and carbon monoxide. In the last step, hydrotreating, hydrocracking and hydroisomerization upgrading steps are used to upgrade the combined HFTL and MFTL products into jet fuel.


Sierra, located in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center approximately 20 miles east of Reno, will utilize Fulcrum’s proprietary thermochemical process to convert household garbage into low-carbon transportation fuels. Fulcrum’s process has numerous social and environmental benefits, including extending the life of landfills and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to the use of traditional petroleum transportation fuel, Fulcrum’s process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%.

When the plant begins commercial operations in the first quarter of 2020, Sierra will convert approximately 175,000 tons of household garbage into more than 10.5 million gallons of fuel each year.

Fulcrum is developing future projects that follow the same approach as Sierra with fixed feedstock costs, fuel offtake prices hedged against oil, plant performance guaranteed and a low-cost of production that provides attractive operating margins.

As construction proceeds on Sierra, engineering, siting and permitting activities are underway for the company’s next several projects to be sited near large US metropolitan areas where Fulcrum has already secured long-term supplies of feedstock, fuel logistics and fuel offtake agreements. Collectively, these future plants are expected to have the capacity to produce more than 300 million gallons of jet fuel annually.



It is more profitable to make liquid fuels than clean up the methane and put it in the pipes.

Nick Lyons

@SJC: I assume gasification of the waste converts a higher percentage to useful product than does the process of bacteria eating part of the waste and emitting methane. It would seem one of the big benefits of this is to reduce the solid waste stream going to landfills. It would be interesting to see a comparison.


Either way, make fuels.

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