With the passing of Halloween, millions of pounds of pumpkins have turned from seasonal decorations to trash destined for landfills, adding to more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) produced in the United States every year. This Halloween, think of turning this seasonal waste into energy as a very important “trick” that can have a positive environmental and energy impact.
At landfills, MSW decomposes and eventually turns into methane—a harmful greenhouse gas that plays a part in climate change, with more than 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO2). However, when MSW is used to harness bioenergy—rather than simply being thrown away—the end result benefits the environment and helps our nation become less dependent on carbon-based fuel. Harnessing the potential of bioenergy allows the United States to generate its own supply of clean energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It also limits stress on landfills by reducing waste and could ultimately create jobs for manufacturing, installing, and maintaining energy systems.
The Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office is working together with industry to develop and test integrated biorefineries—facilities capable of efficiently converting plant and waste material into affordable biofuels, biopower and other products. These projects are located around the country and use a variety of materials as feedstocks.
One of them, Fulcrum Bioenergy’s biorefinery in McCarran, Nevada, will use MSW as a feedstock and use gasification and Fischer-Tröpsch conversion technology to produce “drop-in” biofuel for the military.
Fulcrum Bioenergy was one of three companies selected to receive federal investments for commercial-scale biorefinery projects to produce military-grade biofuel that can be directly substituted for petroleum-derived jet and diesel fuel. Another one of these projects, from Emerald Biofuels, will use a different type of waste—fats, oils, and greases—as a feedstock that will be hydro-treated and upgraded at its refinery on the Gulf Coast.
Once in full operation, these two biorefineries will have a combined capacity to produce 92 million gallons of advanced biofuel per year for the military. Fulcrum has since received a $30 million investment from United Airlines and has entered into a long-term jet fuel supply agreement with Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific.
The Energy Department is working to expand waste-to-energy opportunities in the United States, and its partnership with these companies is helping to remove barriers to the commercialization of fuel and power production from waste, including yard and food wastes. It might not be long until the 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins we produce annually are nearly as important to our energy security as they are to Halloween!
LIZ LOWRY &ALICIA MOULTON , U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY