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Published on April 2nd, 2008 | by Clayton

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World’s First Commercially Viable Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Online 2009

Range Fuels, ethanol, cellulosic

[social_buttons] Range Fuels Inc. announced yesterday it has secured over $100 million in Series B funding, an investment that could make it the first company to seriously commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The first phase of construction will produce 20 million gallons of mixed alcohols per year by 2009, and has the potential to expand to up to 120 million gallons.

Range Fuels says their facility will break down any type of plant material (eg agricultural waste or wood chips) by a two-step thermochemical process. This differs from competing methods of producing cellulosic ethanol, which involve breakdown of plant material with heat and/or acid, and treating it with costly ($0.50/gallon) enzymes.

Range Fuels skips the enzymatic part and uses a process similar to Coskata Inc.: biomass is broken down by extreme heat and pressure, which converts it into a mixture of gases (H2 and CO) called syngas. The syngas is fed through proprietary catalysts that converts it into a mixture of alcohols, and a bit more sorting and processing produces a renewable vehicle fuel. See Range Fuel’s interactive explanation (as depicted above).

The only difference between Range Fuels and the Coskata process seems to be that Coskata relies on proprietary microorganisms instead of chemical catalysts to convert the syngas into ethanol. In any case, the race is on. Coskata said earlier this year it would start building commercial facilities after a 40,000 gallon per year demo plant goes online in late 2008.

Highlights of the Range Fuels Process:

  • Fuel production costs “significantly less” than either enzymatic cellulosic ethanol or corn-grain ethanol, the latter of which currently costs about $2/gallon.
  • Higher fuel production rates for each ton of biomass than enzymatic and corn-grain ethanol, which decreases cost, biomass needed, and land use.
  • Uses 75 percent less water than corn ethanol and 60% lower emissions than corn-grain ethanol
  • Cost competitive with gasoline as long as oil stays above $50/barrel.

Related Posts:

First Algae Biodiesel Plant Goes Online: April 1, 2008

Switchgrass Could Displace 30% of US Petroleum Usage With 94% GHG Reduction

First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Goes Online, Makes Fuel From Wood Waste

Study: Your Car Can Run On 20% Ethanol

GM Announces Biofuel Partnership: Cheap, Green Ethanol?

Source: Range Fuels (Apr. 1, 2008): Range Fuels Raises over $100 Million in Series B Financing

Photo Credit: Range Fuels Inc.




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About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.



  • http://www.afrodream.com afrodream ‘n’ beaded sandals

    hope 4 the best in the green energy

  • http://www.afrodream.com afrodream ‘n’ beaded sandals

    hope 4 the best in the green energy

  • dave

    And the “extreme heat and pressure” comes from where? Coal burning powerplants? Not very green if ya ask me

  • dave

    And the “extreme heat and pressure” comes from where? Coal burning powerplants? Not very green if ya ask me

  • http://www.alfin2100.blogspot.com Al Fin

    This is a smarter approach than using enzymes to break down the cellulose/hemicellulose/lignin. Energy within the biomass itself can be used to drive the gasification process. After you have the syngas, you can do a lot of different things with it. At that point, ethanol is only one of the options–and probably not the best one.

  • http://www.alfin2100.blogspot.com Al Fin

    This is a smarter approach than using enzymes to break down the cellulose/hemicellulose/lignin. Energy within the biomass itself can be used to drive the gasification process. After you have the syngas, you can do a lot of different things with it. At that point, ethanol is only one of the options–and probably not the best one.

  • http://NA spartan

    Shell Oil Company had a plant like this that existed nearly a decade ago, but thanks to the administration at the time there was no apparent “need for it”, despite the researchers’ call for alternative sources. The plant was torn down due to lack of use. Don’t point the blame at big oil, they have been searching for alternatives all the time.

  • G.C. Gardner

    (( could make it the first company to seriously commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The first phase of construction will produce 20 million gallons of mixed alcohols per year by 2009, and has the potential to expand to up to 120 million gallons ))

    •••••••••••••••••••••

    I’m stumped here. Cellulosic ethanol? How is that isolated from a batch of mixed alcohols? I’ve re-read your post several times and can’t interpret this. Range received $76M grant funds from the DOE to produce lignocellulosic ethanol. What do they intend on marketing to refiners and gasoline blenders? You indicate a bit more sorting and processing produces a renewable vehicle fuel. I’m wondering more precisely what they intend on marketing? Thanks.

  • G.C. Gardner

    (( could make it the first company to seriously commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The first phase of construction will produce 20 million gallons of mixed alcohols per year by 2009, and has the potential to expand to up to 120 million gallons ))

    •••••••••••••••••••••

    I’m stumped here. Cellulosic ethanol? How is that isolated from a batch of mixed alcohols? I’ve re-read your post several times and can’t interpret this. Range received $76M grant funds from the DOE to produce lignocellulosic ethanol. What do they intend on marketing to refiners and gasoline blenders? You indicate a bit more sorting and processing produces a renewable vehicle fuel. I’m wondering more precisely what they intend on marketing? Thanks.

  • Biff

    Interesting, Al.

    How is it smarter? Using what energy to generate all of that heat to create the syngas? Would that be the same energy used to create the enzymes? What about these ‘chemical catalysts’? What happens to those when they are depleted? How are they produced? What hazards will they pose? Enzymes are natural proteins.

    Range offers one potential method. I applaud them for their success thus far. But I don’t think Range will be even close to the final answer for where this market is headed.

  • Biff

    Interesting, Al.

    How is it smarter? Using what energy to generate all of that heat to create the syngas? Would that be the same energy used to create the enzymes? What about these ‘chemical catalysts’? What happens to those when they are depleted? How are they produced? What hazards will they pose? Enzymes are natural proteins.

    Range offers one potential method. I applaud them for their success thus far. But I don’t think Range will be even close to the final answer for where this market is headed.

  • http://cheatbuzz.com/ galleryfront

    > 20 million gallons of mixed alcohols per year.

    Great…. at current consumption rates, our country would cut through an entire year’s production in about 30 minutes. There are 45 gallons in a barrel. We go through 22,000,000 barrels of oil per day. So not only is it a bad choice in terms of CO2, we’d need to build a ton of these plants to even make a dent in current consumption.

  • http://cheatbuzz.com/ galleryfront

    > 20 million gallons of mixed alcohols per year.

    Great…. at current consumption rates, our country would cut through an entire year’s production in about 30 minutes. There are 45 gallons in a barrel. We go through 22,000,000 barrels of oil per day. So not only is it a bad choice in terms of CO2, we’d need to build a ton of these plants to even make a dent in current consumption.

  • Eric

    G.C. Gardner,

    Follow the link with the process description. They say they’ll be producing primarily ethanol for fuel, but will also produce methanol, propanol, and butanol.

  • Eric

    G.C. Gardner,

    Follow the link with the process description. They say they’ll be producing primarily ethanol for fuel, but will also produce methanol, propanol, and butanol.

  • Alex J

    Hope is great and all, but it’s good to approach these claims with caution. I’ve yet to see real evidence that cellulosic fuels are ready for wide commercialization at reasonable cost. Same with algal biodiesel (one company seemed to be relying on assumptions from brief, small-scale tests). In any case, it will help if we get more serious about fuel economy. Then alternatives can displace a higher percentage of petro-fuel.

  • Alex J

    Hope is great and all, but it’s good to approach these claims with caution. I’ve yet to see real evidence that cellulosic fuels are ready for wide commercialization at reasonable cost. Same with algal biodiesel (one company seemed to be relying on assumptions from brief, small-scale tests). In any case, it will help if we get more serious about fuel economy. Then alternatives can displace a higher percentage of petro-fuel.

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  • Roger Sacilotto

    A significant source of cellulose is newspapers, much of which ends up in landfills.

  • Roger Sacilotto

    A significant source of cellulose is newspapers, much of which ends up in landfills.

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  • larryhagedon

    Good post Clayton.

    Indeed lots of companies are breaking thru the production barriers now to commercialise cellulosic bio-technologies.

    I was a bit amused at all the negative comments. They are much more indicative of the commentors lack of understanding of the processes involved than of any problems with those processes.

  • larryhagedon

    Good post Clayton.

    Indeed lots of companies are breaking thru the production barriers now to commercialise cellulosic bio-technologies.

    I was a bit amused at all the negative comments. They are much more indicative of the commentors lack of understanding of the processes involved than of any problems with those processes.

  • Gerard Vaughan

    Some people seem rightly concerned as to where the energy comes from to drive the process. Well, I assume that it is as with the refinement of crude oil. It uses-up some of the product. You cannot expect a comlicated conversion process not to use a little. The question is, “roughly how much”. One can only assume that this is reflected in the price of the product.

    I did email a “bio-diesel” company to ask if they powered their agricultural machinery on their product, but received no memorable reply. It certainly does make you wonder !

    Regarding “Wind-energy” (My subject), you may be interested to know that the “Economy” of a wind-farm – i.e. how long it takes to supply the energy required to make another – is a necklace-shaped function of the (logarithm of) physical size – diameter – of the “TAD”s of which it is comprised.

    (Logarithm – i.e. make each horizontal division on the “size” axis represent TIMES 2 (say) as opposed to PLUS two(say))

    The shortest time ocurrs for sizes where the T(urbine) costs about the same as the A(lternator). This happens at around 1m diameter for a very effective design !

  • Gerard Vaughan

    Some people seem rightly concerned as to where the energy comes from to drive the process. Well, I assume that it is as with the refinement of crude oil. It uses-up some of the product. You cannot expect a comlicated conversion process not to use a little. The question is, “roughly how much”. One can only assume that this is reflected in the price of the product.

    I did email a “bio-diesel” company to ask if they powered their agricultural machinery on their product, but received no memorable reply. It certainly does make you wonder !

    Regarding “Wind-energy” (My subject), you may be interested to know that the “Economy” of a wind-farm – i.e. how long it takes to supply the energy required to make another – is a necklace-shaped function of the (logarithm of) physical size – diameter – of the “TAD”s of which it is comprised.

    (Logarithm – i.e. make each horizontal division on the “size” axis represent TIMES 2 (say) as opposed to PLUS two(say))

    The shortest time ocurrs for sizes where the T(urbine) costs about the same as the A(lternator). This happens at around 1m diameter for a very effective design !

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