July 2, 2007 5:00 AM PDT

Cellulosic ethanol plant to open next year

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The race is on to try to open the first large-scale cellulosic ethanol plant.

Range Fuels on Monday is expected to announce that it has received a permit to build an ethanol production plant in rural Georgia that uses wood chips as its feedstock. It plans to break ground on the plant this summer.

By next year, the company intends to have a facility capable of creating 20 million gallons of ethanol per year. The site in Treutlen County, Ga., has received a permit to produce 100 million gallons per year, and Range Fuels expects to eventually reach that production amount, according to company CEO Mitch Mandich.

"A lot of people are talking about 2009, or 10 or 11--even Secretary of Energy (Samuel) Bodman will say cellulosic ethanol is five years away," Mandich said. "We think by the time we enter production, we'll be the first, so the race is on between us and some competitors."

Several companies are pursuing techniques to make ethanol out of plants other than corn, which is how ethanol is made today in the United States. Cellulosic ethanol processes convert plant wastes, like wood chips and grasses, to ethanol.

Range Fuels uses a thermal chemical process that turns the wood material into a synthetic gas that is then mixed with a catalyst to make ethanol.

Mandich said his company's process will be less expensive than enzymatic approaches by which specially designed chemicals ferment the biomass to make ethanol. The company currently has four pilot facilities.

At its Georgia facility, Range Fuels intends to buy unusable material left after logging Georgia pine forests--about 25 percent of harvests is typically left behind as waste, Mandich said.

The cost of the plant at a capacity of 100 million gallons per year will be more than $150 million, Mandich said, without giving a specific sum. A multiyear, $76 million Department of Energy grant to Range Fuels is part of the financing.

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Waste as a feedstock, good...
But if it turns out that the economics of using purpose-grown
materials for cellulosic ethanol are good, there would be nothing to
prevent food crops from being displaced until we have a balance
where both driving and eating are financially painful. Not enough
land to do both at a reasonable cost with this technology.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Waste? Is there really such a thing?
The trouble with cellulosic ehtanol is that the type of plant and
animal waste used for these plants would have been composted
and returned to the soil. Whether food crops or cellulosic waste,
making ethanol turns out to be mining top soil. If we don't return
the cellulosic material to compost, our farmland will be dead in a
century-- the great plains will be turned into a desert wasteland of
soil with no nutrients. Everybody needs to wake up to how
dangerous this is!
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Handn't looked at it that way
The same comment would apply to all kinds of crops, wouldn't it?
Perhaps the waste products from the ethanol plants could be put
back onto the land. On the other hand, I think we should not
depend on ethanol being more than a niche product anyway. Not
enough land for much more.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
OK, this may not be a good solution. What is?
Your point about "waste" being a meaningless term in the
environment is well taken. One man's trash is another
(microbe's) treasure. Nevertheless... and I mean this without
sarcasm... if the answer isn't:

* fossil fuels (due to carbon emissions),
* cellulistic ethanol (for the reasons you raise),
* hydrogen (because the required electricity is likely a problem),
* windmills (killing migratory birds),
* dams (killing salmon and snail darters),
* nuclear (waste radiation issues),
* solar (pesky nighttime and dirty batteries)

...then what is the answer to our energy requirements? Is there
one? Every solution has issues, it seems, so should we discount
all of them because of these issues? Is this an example of
"perfect is the enemy of good enough"?

Posted by mmccalpin (3 comments )
Link Flag
Our farmers have figured out
that tricky crop rotation thingy. They've known about it for centuries. Your concerns are unwarrented. Farmers today make decisions of what they are going to grow based on what he believes will grow in what field. He knows what crops will produce the most money but he also knows that he can't deplete the soil each season.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
76 Million Dollar Grant
The damn plant only costs 150 Million, and that pays for 50.6 percent of it...

What am I doing wrong???
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What you're doing wrong
You are not a well-heeled investor seeking corporate welfare! Let's
cut single parents off of welfare and give $76M to wealthy
investors, they really need a hand up from the government.
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Link Flag

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