Billy Dunlap ’90
By Sara Ann Hutto ’17
Photography by Josh Wilson
As the senior director of project management at Fulcrum Bioenergy, Dunlap is part of a local team that’s pioneering a solution for both the municipal and aerospace spheres — by turning trash into jet fuel
Q: Can you give an overview of Fulcrum Bioenergy?
A: We are a leader, a pioneer, if you will, in low-carbon, low-cost transportation fuel production. We take municipal solid waste, basically household garbage, to our processing facility in Reno, Nev., which converts the trash into feedstock. We take that feedstock over to our biorefinery, about 10 miles away. And then, through our proprietary thermochemical process, we will convert the feedstock into low-carbon renewable transportation fuels, including jet fuel and diesel.
Q: What are the next steps for the fuel?
A: What we are planning to do is to take the converted jet fuel and blend it with traditional carbon-based jet fuel to help lower the carbon-based emissions for the airline industry. So, we’re doing two good things: We’re helping to divert a lot of the garbage that goes to landfills (which will be significantly reduced in the areas where we build these plants, now and in the future) and are providing the airline industry with low-carbon alternatives to jet fuel.
Q: What are your responsibilities as senior director of project management?
A: It changes every day. We have the group here in Clemson that is mainly over engineering and technology; we’ve got the group in Pleasanton, Calif., which is our corporate headquarters; and then we have the group that is in Reno doing our construction management and setting up operations for the biorefinery. I am the main liaison between Fulcrum and our engineering procurement and construction company — our main contractor for installing everything that we’re doing out at the biorefinery in Reno. I also work with all of our engineers here in Clemson and our staff in Reno to make sure that we’re all progressing in the same manner to get this project installed.
“Clemson has always been and will continue to be a big part of my life, personally and professionally.”
Q: What does the future look like for Fulcrum and this technology?
A: We have patented our process, and we’ve worked with some of our partners at a pilot facility to prove that this technology will work. We have also gone through all of the government testing and certification to make sure that our fuel meets all of the required specifications to be able to blend it with traditional carbon-based fuel. The two plants that we’re building in Reno are our first ones, so we’re going to get those up and running before starting construction on additional projects. We have offtake agreements with several refineries to take our jet fuel that we make, and we already have several new projects in the works that are under varying degrees of development, most notably in Houston, Chicago and the United Kingdom.
Q: What is it like working with other Clemson alumni, in an office in Clemson to boot?
A: It’s a great bond. Clemson is a wonderful education, especially with all of us coming from the engineering program; it definitely prepares you for what we see every day, not just from a technical standpoint but also dealing with people and contractors and vendors and everything else that we do. It’s been fun to not only work with those folks but also to be here, close to the University. We have talked with the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, and they have asked us to work with them to help provide some real-world problems for their students’ senior design projects. We want to be a good plug-in to the community — the community that helped us be who we are.
Q: How would you describe Clemson in three words?
A: I don’t know if I would use three; I might use just one. It feels like a family. This is certainly the case for me. My dad, my wife, Eleanor, all three of my siblings and two brothers-in-law all graduated from Clemson. My oldest daughter just graduated in May 2019, and two nieces are currently students. With so many graduates who are friends, family and co-workers, Clemson has always been and will continue to be a big part of my life, personally and professionally.