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Fulcrum to build second waste-to-fuels plant in Gary, Indiana

Fulcrum BioEnergy has selected Gary, Indiana as the location of its Centerpoint BioFuels Plant, which will convert municipal solid waste (MSW) into low-carbon, renewable transportation fuel.

Fulcrum has developed and demonstrated a proprietary thermochemical process that converts MSW feedstock into low-carbon renewable transportation fuels including jet fuel and diesel. The process has been reviewed by numerous third parties including independent engineers, the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Agriculture.


The process begins with the gasification of the organic material in the MSW feedstock to a synthesis gas (syngas) which consists primarily of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This syngas is purified and processed through the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process to produce a syncrude product which is then upgraded to jet fuel or diesel.

Fulcrum has licensed from ThermoChem Recovery International, Inc. a highly efficient and economic gasification system for the conversion of the MSW feedstock to syngas. 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 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 which has been in commercial operations for decades. 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.

Construction of the new plant is expected to begin in 2020 and will take approximately 18-24 months to complete. Once operational, the Centerpoint plant will divert and process approximately 700,000 tons of waste from the Greater Chicago area.

The plant will process the waste, which will be converted offsite into a prepared feedstock, and will produce approximately 33 million gallons of fuel annually.

Centerpoint will deploy Fulcrum’s proprietary process which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% when compared to conventional fossil fuels and will generate hundreds of jobs in the region, creating 160 full-time permanent jobs and 900 construction jobs.

Fulcrum’s Centerpoint plant will be the company’s second waste-to-fuels plant. In late 2017, Fulcrum began construction on the Sierra BioFuels Plant located near Reno, Nevada. When the Sierra plant begins operations in early 2020, it will be the first commercial-scale waste-to-fuels plant in the United States.



Okay, envelope time:

33e6 gallons * 6.71 lb/gallon = 221 million lb = 100k metric tons product.

700 k tons input, 100k tons output.  This is a great way to dispose of waste, not such a great way to replace petroleum.


Disposing waste is good. If it contributes to replacing petroleum, even to a small degree, all the better.


That depends.  If you are relying on waste-derived fuel to replace petroleum, locking into this technology means guaranteeing your ultimate failure.

If the input stream is 45% carbon, converting all the carbon into product would yield about 350,000 tons (about 116 million gallons) of jet fuel.  Since fixed carbon is the limiting input, avoiding losses as CO2 should be the goal of further development efforts.


J Martin, I assume the 80% improvement compared to conventional includes that reduction from conventional waste disposal in which case it would not be as spectacular as the headline suggests while probably in the ballpark of other energy and fertiliser recovery technologies currently in use.
E.P. always make a similar observation or claim suggesting or implying that by exploring or developing the technology described that it locks that argument by extension suggests it locks out better alternatives.

"locking into this technology means guaranteeing your ultimate failure."

In this instance there is a follow up suggestion on improving outcome which is a productive comment but the implication that exploring or developing the given technology has 'no merit? because it isn't a perfect answer and won't replace fossil fuels is a nonsensical feature of his comments.
We know that (most) people don't always read critically but tend to absorb the headline statements with preference to negative sensational claims.
This is yet another example when the reader should ask what is unstated / understood .
No one makes a claim of solving fossil derived fuel substitution rather an improvement to existing methods.


My point, Arnold, is that they're doing something that's been done for the better part of a century (generally using coal instead of RDF).  There are a number of reasons not to expect much to come from it and/or regard it as a mistake-in-the-making:

  1. The aforementioned energy/carbon inefficiency.
  2. Liquids from RDF are certain to be no more economic than CTL, which isn't economic anywhere that isn't under an oil embargo.
  3. Plants of this scale are usually built for 50-year lifespans, but this will probably never run for anywhere near that long because operation will depend on subsidies.  Unless there is something truly new to be learned, that represents a huge waste.

Given the poor economics of electric generation from trash incineration, and the much greater difficulty of waste-to-liquids, I think there's probably more downside potential here than it's worth.


For what it's worth, Fulcrum claims that they can produce jet/diesel fuel for "less than $1.00/gallon" -

The cost of ULSD pre-tax is about $2.20/gallon per EIA.


Getting paid to dispose of their feedstock is a serious commercial advantage, but I wouldn't bet my money on them being able to carry it off at this point.


How much is it worth to get rid of the stinky garbage mountains near every US cities.


Gasification works better with consistent feed stock, landfill is not that.


There seems no easy answer.
Municipal waste steams are only part of the story.
Globally much waste escapes to the environment and by virtue of the quantity become an extreme hazard.
Changing the composition of the waste stream at production might include designing products that can be more easily recycled or bio degrade as benign is an important step.
Sorting into consistent feed stocks as required for recycling allows for building industrial processes which can effectively reuse the material while also having a potential advantage of utilising some of the embodied energy from originally producing the material.

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