Municipal Solid and Forestry Waste Projects Now Delivering Transportation Fuels

In my Dec. 13, 2016 blog, Renewable Jet Fuel Tested on a Commercial Airline, I described research taking place at Washington State University involved in the enzymatic fermentation of forestry wastes into sugars which are subsequently converted into isobutanol for eventual upgrading into synthetic jet fuel. While this specific technology has yet to be commercialized, there are now several other actual projects being implemented that will transform not only forestry wastes, but also municipal solid wastes into jet and other transportation fuels. The following describes three such projects.

Sierra BioFuels Project
Fulcrum Bioenergy Inc. a California-based company, is proceeding with the construction of a 10 million gal/yr. renewable fuels plant from 175,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW). The plant is located in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial center, approximately 20 miles east of Reno, Nevada. The first phase of this project, already completed, involved the construction of a Feedstock Processing Facility adjacent to Waste Management’s Lockwood Regional Landfill. This facility separates the MSW into organic carbon-containing materials; paper, wood, fabrics and textiles, from metals and glass.

It is the carbon-containing waste that is fed into a steam-reforming gasifier being licensed from ThermoChem Recovery International (TRI) to convert the organic wastes into synthesis gas: a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Using Energy Fuels Technology’s Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process, the synthesis gas is then converted into a synthetic crude oil. The lightest component, naphtha, is separated from the heavier fractions and recycled to TRI’s steam-reforming gasification step. The heavier fractions are transported to an Andeavor refinery (previously Tesoro) for further upgrading into diesel and jet fuels.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $280 million, most of which will be provided through the private bond market. In addition, Fulcrum has received more than $105 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the U.S. Dept. of Defense granted Fulcrum $70 million in 2014. United Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Air BP are minority shareholders in the project and have committed to buy the venture’s jet fuel. The biorefinery section of the plant is being constructed by the engineering and construction division of the Spanish company Abengoa S.A. Abengoa Bioenergy US, a subsidiary of the Spanish parent, went out of business in July 2017, after selling all its US biofuels plants under bankruptcy proceedings. Completion of the project is scheduled for 2020.

Red Rock Biofuels Lakeview Project
Red Rock Biofuels (RRB), a subsidiary of the IR1 Group, has obtained all major permits to proceed with the construction of a 15 million gallons/year renewable fuels plant in Lakeview, Oregon, based on the conversion of 136,000 tons of forestry and agricultural woody wastes. The project is backed by the issuance of $245 million in State of Oregon bonds. The woody wastes will be gasified into synthesis gas and converted into synthetic crude oil using Velocys’ Fischer-Tropsch’s technology. The synthetic crude oil is upgraded by hydroprocessing into jet and diesel fuels.

When completed the plant will produce 7.2 million gal/yr. of jet fuel, 7.2 million gal/yr. of diesel fuel and 3.6 million gal/yr. of naphtha. Off take agreements for the jet fuel have been arranged with Southwest Airlines and Federal Express. While not totally clear in the publicly available information about the project, it appears that Fluor performed the overall process design with the parent IR1 group providing the detailed design, engineering and construction for the project with scheduled completion in 2020.

Natchez Bio Refinery
Velocys will also be providing its Fischer-Tropsch technology to a bio refinery in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi. The feedstock for this proposed project is 1,000 dry tons/day of woody biomass to be converted into 20 million gal/yr. (1,400 bpd) of renewable fuels. The woody feedstock will be converted into synthesis gas using TRI’s steam gasification technology and then fed into Velocys’s Fischer-Tropsch reactor. No information is available to date on any product offtake partners. Based on the similarity to the RRB above project, it is suspected that both diesel and jet fuels will make up a majority of the renewable products. According to Velocys a final go/no-go decision will be made the middle of 2019.

Velocys is also investigating a Waste-to-Jet fuel plant in the UK based on household wastes as the feedstock with British Airlines as a prospective offtake partner.

It will be interesting to see how these projects proceed as Fulcrum Bioenergy has announced some rather ambitious plans for constructing eight more MSW to biofuels facilities by 2022.

Who knows, someday soon, it may be our own transformed garbage that is transporting us to distant locales.

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