Range Fuels, Inc., a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced it will build its first ethanol plant in the tiny town of Soperton, Treutlen County, GA. The first plant will have a capacity of at least 10 million gallons of ethanol a year and will create over 70 new jobs for the area. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue told a breakfast meeting of the Georgia Agribusiness Council that Range will begin construction immediately on the $225 million plant.
While most domestic ethanol production requires corn as a feedstock, Range Fuels' proprietary technology transforms otherwise useless products such as agricultural wastes, grasses, cornstalks and wood waste, as well as hog manure, municipal garbage, sawdust and paper pulp, into ethanol through an anaerobic thermal conversion process. The company's modular system, K2, uses a two step process to convert biomass to a synthetic gas and from there, convert the gas to ethanol.
Biomass is heated in an oxygen-free environment to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The carbon monoxide and hydrogen are then reconstituted into various alcohols – like ethanol. Fermentation and acid hydrolysis can take days to occur, but thermal conversion breaks down organic matter and converts it to ethanol in minutes.
The process uses little energy to start; it fuels itself in a self-sustaining fashion; it produces virtually no waste products; it emits very low levels of greenhouse gas. Range Fuels claims it can produce more ethanol for a given amount of energy expended than is possible with any other competing process.
Depending upon the quantity and availability of feedstock, the K2 system can scale from entry-level systems to large configurations. This range of system performance will allow the K2 to be placed near the biomass location reducing transportation costs, and will allow the most economical size system to be deployed. Because the system is modular, adding another module – which is easy to ship and install, increases the output.
Wood chips, scrap timber and other products left over from Georgia's current timber harvest produce enough "feeder stock" for 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year, said Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels. Mandich also said the company has spent seven years researching the use of different materials - from olive pits to hog manure - for ethanol and is ready for commercial production. "Our technology has been proven with a number of different feed stocks and now the proof will be in the making of the plant and the production of the plant," he said.
According to Wired Range has a 15,000 gpd pilot plant north of Denver.
Many critics of ethanol have charged that it's not economically viable if retail gasoline prices fall below $3 a gallon. Mandich, though, told reporters after the announcement that his company's process is viable now.
"When you look at new, innovative technologies, you have a cost curve that always starts high, but over time, with continued innovation and research, those costs drop down," he said. "Today, we're already competitive with corn-based ethanol."
Based in Broomfield, Colo., privately owned Range Fuels, Inc. is funded by Khosla Ventures, LLC, of Menlo Park, Calif. On Jan. 7 the company announced that it had changed its name from Kergy Inc. to Range Fuels, Inc.