When most people think of trash, they think of the useless garbage that has no other purpose but to be thrown away. But a newly funded government project backed by the Obama administration is to be executed correctly, then trash can be a source of ethanol instead of being dumped into landfills.
The Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels project, which has a $105 million federal loan guarantee issued under the USDA’s Rural Development Biorefinery Assistance Program, will be taking household trash and converting it into ethanol at a biofuel production facility in northern Nevada. The goal is to annually convert 147,000 tons of solid waste into 10 million gallons of ethanol. The ethanol will be used for transportation fuel.
The benefits of this project are three-fold: It eliminates trash in a productive manner, it reduces dependence on foreign oil and it will help the local economy where the plan is located. In fact, officials predict the new plant will create 430 construction jobs and 53 permanent jobs by 2015. Another added advantage is that since the source of the fuel (the solid waste) is obtained at no cost, the cost of ethanol will be lower as well.
What’s more, if implemented worldwide, this concept of turning solid waste to fuel could change the word. In 2009 a team of scientists from Singapore and Switzerland released data (PDF) published in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy that disclosed how much ethanol could potentially be created from waste. The New York Times wrote, noting that the calculations don’t account for greenhouse emissions created in the process, that:
Basing their calculations on known wood and crop waste yields, as well as estimates of gas and paper consumption in 173 countries, the group reckons there’s enough such trash to generate 82.9 billion litres of ethanol (almost 22 billion gallons) a year – “replacing 5.36 percent of gasoline consumption, with accompanying greenhouse gas emissions savings of between 29.2 percent and 86.1 percent,” the authors conclude.
So how will this whole process go down? Fulcrum has signed a contract with Waste Management and Waste Connections Inc., which will provide garbage from 19 states that have recyclables (plastics, cans, bottles and paper) removed. Trash will be converted to ethanol in the plan and then sold to Tenaska BioFuels LLC, which will then market it to blenders in the Nevada and Northern California region.
If you think this process is too good to be true, then consider this: Converting trash to gas has been tried successfully, albeit on a much smaller scale, in other parts of the country and internationally as well. In fact, in 2009, a green energy company based in Quebec successfully turned trash into fuel.