Feedstocks in Focus for March 30: Municipal Solid Waste and urban residues

March 29, 2015 |

ABFC2015-lg10 weeks out from ABFC, this week’s Feedstock in Focus is “MSW and Industrial residues”.

Also known as “Urban waste”, it’s nasty, here, inevitable and aggregated. The feedstocks are available at fixed, affordable prices and in long-term supply contracts from credit-worthy entities. Everyone loves the idea.

So, when will we have it?

Learn All About It

The Advanced Bioeconomy Feedstocks Conference, in New Orleans this June 9-10, 2015, organized by The Digest, will have a full session-length program on municipal solid waste and urban residues. More about that here.

The realities of using MSW

As Ed Hamrick detailed in the Digest, the promise is there: “More than two billion tons of MSW produced worldwide every year, with more than 250 million tons per year produced in the USA every year. Disposal of MSW is a thousand year old industry and there’s an efficient and well-established system for collecting it, transporting it and disposing of it. There’s a steady supply of MSW year-round. People pay money for disposing it.”

Why not incinerate MSW or use anaerobic digesters?

Hamrick cautions: “There’s one big problem – food waste is wet and is 80% water. The physics of water are unyielding – it’s very expensive to cause water to go from liquid water to water vapor. It costs about $5 per ton of water to heat water to boiling, and another $15 per ton of water to make water go from a liquid to water vapor, so it’s expensive to burn something that’s wet. No sane person would buy MSW to make money from burning it.”

“Toronto, Canada has people put their food waste and other organics in blue bags which get picked up every two weeks, get pulped using BTA pulpers, and processed with anaerobic digestion. But both incineration nor anaerobic digestion run at a loss.

So, what’s a solution?

Hamrick advises: “A solution needs to be located near existing transfer stations. This minimizes transportation costs and uses existing infrastructure. When the wind blows, the smell can’t annoy the neighbors. It has to be profitable without subsidies, since subsidies go away. It can’t emit any toxins into the environment. It can’t dump dirty water into the sewers.

“The physics of water are at the root of a solution – using hot (but not boiling) water to simultaneously kill microorganisms, pulp food waste and pulp waste paper. Microorganisms die when heated in water at 70 C (158 F) for 30 minutes. Food waste softens at 85 C and above. Paper forms a pulp most efficiently above 60 C (140 F).

“Our solution for separating carbohydrates from MSW? MSW is pulped with process water in a heated drum pulper. The [resulting] pulp contains sugar and starch from food waste and paper fibers from waste paper. A screen with additional process water separates out clean recyclables. A hydropulper removes sand, grit and glass fragments from the pulp. A dewatering device separates paper fibers from the pulp. The remaining pulp is added to the process water. The process water is treated with alpha-amylase enzymes to convert starch to sugar. The overflow of the process water is a sugar and starch solution that reaches an equilibrium concentration. No water is added in this process and commercially available drum pulpers, screens, hydropulpers and dewatering equipment can be used.

Waste to Fuels Monsters. In focus today, Enerkem and Fulcrum BioEnergy.



Enerkem officially inaugurated its first full-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility in Edmonton, Alberta, last year. This facility, operated by Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, is among the world’s first commercial facilities to be built for the production of renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels. During its construction, more than 600 direct and indirect jobs were created for the modular manufacturing of the facility’s systems and their on-site assembly.

It will use the City of Edmonton’s non recyclable and non compostable waste to produce 10 million gallons of renewable fuels and chemicals, and will create more than 30 permanent jobs, in addition to 200 jobs during construction. The City of Edmonton and Enerkem Alberta Biofuels have signed a 25-year agreement to convert 100,000 tonnes of the City’s municipal solid waste into biofuels annually. The garbage to be used cannot be recycled or composted.

Other news from Canada’s finest: Sustainable Technology Development Canada, through its NextGen Biofuels Fund, could be investing just shy of $40 million in the Vanerco project – a joint venture of Enerkem and Greenfield Ethanol, slated for construction in Varennes, Quebec.

The initial investments is $734,500, that will support the initial development of the facility as a repayable contribution, and the final amount that could go up to $39.8 million. Overall, its a 10 million gallon, 38 million liter waste-to-energy project that will use The non recyclable waste from institutional, commercial and industrial sectors, and from construction and demolition debris.  Development of the facility, which will use Enerkem’s proprietary waste-to-biofuels technology, is underway now.

But down in Mississippi, the proposed Enerkem MSW-to-ethanol plant in Pontotoc remains delayed, five years after the project was still announced. The company says it still has ever intention of developing the project that is based on its 10 million gallon per year facility in Edmonton, Alberta. Several million dollars have been invested in the project so far, with several permits ready to be issued and others awaiting application, but the company is still working to secure financing for the project. The Edmonton facility began commissioning in December but still hasn’t produced any fuel. Fuel production is expected to start this spring.

Fulcrum BioEnergy

Fulcrum BioEnergy has developed a “game-changing process for converting municipal solid waste that would otherwise be landfilled, into renewable transportation fuels including syncrude, jet fuel and diesel”. The company has successfully proven and demonstrated this process for converting MSW to fuels utilizing its proprietary, innovative, clean and efficient thermochemical process. Fulcrum has secured long-term, zero-cost MSW feedstock agreements with two waste services partners and has entered into fuel and product offtake agreements with Cathay Pacific Airways and a large oil refining company.

Fulcrum’s innovative business model combines large volume MSW feedstock agreements with a demonstrated thermochemical process to produce jet fuel and diesel at an estimated production cost of well less than $1.00 per gallon.

2014 was a defining period for Fulcrum BioEnergy. The company successfully completed integrated demonstration testing, at scale, of its waste to fuels process. Fuel produced from the demonstration plant meets ASTM requirements for use as commercial or military jet and diesel fuels. Fulcrum’s technology success has been reviewed and confirmed by numerous third parties including independent engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Defense.

In 2014, Fulcrum BioEnergy entered into a first-of-its-kind strategic partnership agreement with Cathay Pacific Airways Limited, a leading global airline. This strategic partnership included a large jet fuel offtake agreement for fuel from Fulcrum’s first five plants and a strategic investment into Fulcrum by Cathay Pacific. In 2014, Fulcrum was also awarded a $70 million grant by the U.S. Department of Defense as part of its national security strategic fuels program.

In 2014, the company also secured the necessary project debt and equity financing to begin construction of the Sierra BioFuels Plant. In addition, Fulcrum entered into fuel product offtake agreements and advanced negotiations of a fixed-price EPC wrap for the construction of Sierra.

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