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Korean firms invest $50 million in US-based Fulcrum BioEnergy

Fulcrum BioEnergy’s plant near Reno, Nevada (Photo: SK Inc.)

SK Inc., the strategic investment arm of South Korea's SK Group, announced Dec. 16 that it was part of a $50 million investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc., a U.S.-based waste-to-fuels company. SK Inc. was joined in the investment with a Korean private-equity fund.

Fulcrum is the first company in the U.S. to produce biofuel on a commercial scale by chemically converting municipal solid waste (MSW) into transportation fuels. SK Inc. plans to enhance its environmental, social and and corporate governance (ESG) portfolio with its investment in Fulcrum.

SK Inc. has been expanding investments in green businesses and technologies to achieve its goal of net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions in response to global climate change.

Leveraging Fulcrum’s proprietary process, which utilizes proven technologies and capabilities on a commercial scale, SK Inc. aims to make an inroad into the Korean bioenergy market with SK Ecoplant, another SK Group company, as a potential partner. SK Ecoplant is a global engineering and construction firm that has placed a priority on environmentally friendly energy and infrastructure projects.

Founded in Pleasanton, California, in 2007, Fulcrum has developed a proprietary process to convert the organic materials found in MSW to low-carbon drop-in fuels, which can be distributed in the same pipelines as traditional petroleum products. Fulcrum's bio jet fuel was approved and certified as an alternative drop-in fuel for the aviation sector. Fulcrum completed the construction of the world’s first commercial-scale MSW-based biofuels refinery in Nevada in July.

Starting in 2022, Fulcrum’s Nevada plant is set to begin producing approximately 11 million gallons of syncrude annually, which will then be upgraded to transportation fuels, such as sustainable aviation fuel. Fulcrum anticipates increased production, as the firm has secured a consistent supply of MSW feedstock through long-term agreements with major waste-services companies in the U.S. and has secured offtake agreements with major energy companies and airline companies.

Notably, Fulcrum has a patented process from feed engineering to biofuel production in the U.S., and its biofuel has been certified under California's Low Carbon Fuels Standard, which was implemented to reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuel.

Fulcrum’s business model helps address environmental challenges by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and landfill waste. Fulcrum’s technology diverts large volumes of MSW from local landfills, helping reduce methane gas generated by waste decomposition.

Fulcrum makes a direct contribution to reducing MSW volumes by using nonrecyclable, landfill-bound MSW as feedstock to produce energy. Fulcrum’s business model could help address various social issues associated with conventional waste disposal, such as a shortage of landfill space and environmental pollution. Fulcrum’s major shareholders include US Renewables Group and Rustic Canyon Partners, the company’s two founding investment firms, BP, United Airlines and Waste Management.

The International Energy Agency estimates global biofuel production was 38 billion gallons in 2020 with the U.S. accounting for 45 percent of global biofuel production. Even with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs), biofuel is likely to continue solid growth, driven by robust demand from conventional international combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and jet fuel.

“Fulcrum’s novel process of biofuel production can make a meaningful contribution to tackling environmental challenges by significantly reducing GHG emissions and addressing landfill capacity shortages,” said Moohwan Kim, executive vice president of SK Inc. “Leveraging Fulcrum’s innovative process, SK Inc. will explore further opportunities with one of its affiliates, SK Ecoplant, which has transformed into an environmental and energy solution provider, to identify opportunities in the domestic market and at the same time expand its presence in the global waste-to-fuel and bioenergy markets.”

SK companies have sites in more than 10 states in the U.S. with plans to invest billions of dollars over the next few years through its U.S. operations or in partnership with U.S. companies. SK companies combined have $106 billion in annual global revenue and more than 100,000 employees worldwide.


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