A company from California has come forward with promises to turn household waste into low-carbon jet fuel in Gary, IN in a more-than-half-a-billion-dollar project. Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. vows to invest $600 million and hire 160 workers at an average wage of $29 an hour, not including benefits, to run its Centerpoint BioFuels Plant.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, city leaders and Gov. Eric Holcomb joined Fulcrum’s CEO and president Jim Macias on Thursday at Gary City Hall to make the announcement. “We recognize that once upon a time, Gary was the economic engine, not just in Northwest Indiana, but in all of Indiana,” Freeman-Wilson said. “We know that we have the infrastructure. We know we have the assets. We have the location and we know that we have the (workers) to make that even more so in the future.”
Fulcrum is not the first company to come to Northwest Indiana with promises to turn trash into energy. Maya Energy has tried for years to build a $50 million, 165,000-square-foot facility in Gary, less than 100 feet from the Steel City Academy charter school. But the Gary City Council in October effectively sent the company back to the drawing board after voting to rescind the city’s approval, leading the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to take another look at Maya’s permit application.
Powers Energy of America sought for years to build a trash-to-ethanol plant for the Lake County Solid Waste Management District in Schneider. But after several failed attempts, the board voted unanimously in 2013 to cancel the contract “after years of collapsed financing plans, missed deadlines and the retreat of a local construction consortium that had once planned to take over,” according to The Times archive.
In Gary, U.S. Steel sunk $210 million in the Carbonyx project to develop a greener alternative to the steelmaking input coking coal before finally pulling the plug in 2014. In Maya Energy’s case, Freeman-Wilson said the city no longer backs that project due to “misrepresentations” made about the project’s scope, but also because of its incompatible location next to the charter school.
Fulcrum, on the other hand, plans to locate to the Buffington Harbor section of the city, an area already home to numerous industrial companies, she said. Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. has spent years investing $100 million from private investors into refining a gasification technology that began in World War II when the Germans had to figure out how to generate power after fuel supply lines were cut off and that was later used in South Africa, Fulcrum BioEnergy Chief Executive Officer Jim Macias said.
Landfill waste will be turned into a “clean, engineered feedstock” that will be volatilized into a hydrocarbon gas that will be converted in diesel or jet fuel. It’s a gasification process similar to how fossil fuels are made from organic materials deep down in the earth in the absence of oxygen, Macias said.
Macias said he believes Fulcrum is different from the failed or troubled companies that have attempted to invest in Northwest Indiana in that Fulcrum has spent several years and more than $100 million investing in refining the technology.