Fulcrum receives conditional USDA loan guarantee for Nev. plant

By Sue Retka Schill | August 07, 2012

Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. received a $105 million condition loan guarantee from the USDA, putting its planned 10 MMgy Sierra BioFuels Plant closer to groundbreaking. "This USDA loan guarantee provides a key piece of financing to move our Sierra BioFuels project forward," said E. James Macias, Fulcrum's president and CEO.  "It allows us to secure private bank financing at reasonable prices and with favorable terms.  This is a real example of how USDA's Rural Development Program helps bring new and innovative technologies and jobs to some of the areas hardest hit by the economic downturn." 

“It will be early next year before we break ground, and 18 months after that before we’re ready to commercially produce ethanol,” said Rick Barraza, vice president of administration. The property has been acquired, the necessary permits in place, and Fluor Corp. has completed the engineering plan. Fluor will serve as the engineering, procurement and construction contractor. 

Fulcrum BioEnergy was selected to advance to the final application stage for a USDA loan guarantee in November, 2010, about a year after it announced that its TurningPoint Ethanol Demonstration plant in Durham, N.C. had successfully demonstrated the clean and efficient conversion of post-sorted municipal solid waste (MSW) to syngas and the catalytic conversion to ethanol.

The Fulcrum technology is a two-step thermochemical process. First, 4-inch pieces of organic materials are gasified in a plasma-enhanced gasifier which uses heat, pressure, steam and a little bit of oxygen. “It doesn’t burn, it breaks down into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, or what we call syngas,” Barraza told EPM. The gas is cleaned and then run through a licensed catalytic technology jointly developed by Nipawin Biomass Ethanol New Generation Co-operative Ltd. and Saskatchewan Research Council. The demonstration plant incorporates a full-scale reactor tube and process, identical to those to be used in Fulcrum’s large-scale plants.

The process is expected to produce 71 gallons of ethanol per ton of processed MSW used, or meaning about 147,000 tons will be required for the Sierra BioFuels facility. The plant will also generate enough electricity to power the process.

Located about 20 miles east of Reno, Nev., the facility has two feedstock supply agreements in place. Waste Connections Inc. will supply presorted MSW from its waste processing facility in El Dorado County, Calif., and Fulcrum has a 15-year agreement with Waste Management of Nevada to deliver post-sorted MSW. Fulcrum also has a three-year off-take agreement in place with Tenaska Biofuels, to buy the cellulosic ethanol at market price. “We’re able to do that because of the low cost nature of the process,” Barraza said, “And, getting MSW feedstock at no cost.”