On November 6th, 2007 a who's who of federal and state public servants, alternative energy business representatives, and technologists from all of the country came to the tiny rural town of Soperton, Georgia to participate in the groundbreaking of the country's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility. It was a milestone for the facility owner, Range Fuels, Inc., and it promises to be the first of many such milestones for the ethanol industry, thermochemical biofuel production, forest-based rural communities, and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture.
Besides the organizers, the roster of speakers included local elected politicians, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman - whose agency is providing $76 million in funding grants for the installation as part of the 932 Grant program announced last February. Tom Doerr, the Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture also attended.
Hosting the groundbreaking was the President of Range Fuels, Mitch Mandich (pictured at right with Vinod Khosla), who assured the audience of his company's commitment to sustaining Soperton's forest assets and ecology.
"The environmental sensitivity of renewable resources are key to our country. So for every tree removed here in Georgia, two trees are planted. When you put millions of dollars in the ground in a plant, it's important that it have the feedstock to support it and we have it here. That plant will have a minimal impact on land. We have 281 acres here of which we will probably be using less than 15. The rest of the acreage will be open space and wildlife habitat. Behind me we have already built an environmental trail and an ecology trail through the wetlands so when we have visitors to the plant we will also have a nature tour for them."
He cited and thanked numerous business partners in the audience who have helped with the siting, environmental compliance, logistics, and construction of the final plant. These include CH2M Hill and Price BIOstock Services.
Mandich introduced the principal investor of the company - venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.
"For a few years now I have said that we need to declare a war on oil. Corn ethanol started that war and without corn ethanol we wouldn't be making the investments that make cellulosic ethanol possible. As the war has escalated in my view, we need better weapons. Cellulosic ethanol is the weapon we need to scale this wall and finally replace oil. Every assumption about oil and petro-based fuel is based on the fact that we have cost-effective alternatives to oil. Within a few years ethanol from this plant, unsubsidized, will be cheaper than oil even after it drops to half its current price. Renewable fuels will be cheaper than their fossil alternatives and we will create competition for oil and will balance the monopoly of oil.
Construction will start immediately with approximately 200 workers involved over the next 4 to 5 months.
Here is the entirety of the Range Fuels press release about this event:
Range Fuels Breaks Ground on the Nation’s First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Plant
U.S. Secretary of Energy and Georgia Governor Attend Groundbreaking Celebration
Broomfield, CO and Soperton, GA – November 6, 2007 – Range Fuels, Inc. announced today that it is breaking ground on the nation’s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant located in Treutlen County, Georgia, near the town of Soperton. Range Fuels, one of six companies selected by the Department of Energy (DOE) for financial support in building a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, will be the first to break ground.
The groundbreaking event is being hosted on the future site of Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant. The event will feature federal, state, city and county officials, including the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman, and the Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue.
Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant will use wood and wood waste from Georgia’s pine forests and mills as its feedstock and will have the capacity to produce over one hundred million gallons of ethanol per year. Construction of the first 20 million-gallon-per-year phase is expected to be completed in 2008.
As part of its $76 million Technology Investment Agreement with the DOE, Range Fuels will receive $50 million based upon the project construction schedule for the first 20-million-gallon-per-year phase of its Soperton Plant. The remainder of the grant, $26 million, will be provided for construction of the next phase of the project.
Range Fuels selected Georgia for its first plant based upon the state’s robust wood products industry supported by Georgia’s vast sustainable and renewable forest lands. The state’s environmental sensitivity and responsible stewardship of its forest lands have created resources that allow Georgia to support up to two billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol production through the application of Range Fuels’ technology.
"Range Fuel's production of cellulosic ethanol from wood materials will make Georgia a national leader in innovative alternative energy production," said Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. "This project, and others like it, will boost economic development in rural Georgia and reduce our state's dependence on foreign oil."
“The state of Georgia has provided us with an excellent opportunity to locate our first plant using its abundant, renewable forest resources as feedstock. Our technology transforms the wood and wood waste from Georgia’s millions of acres of woodlands into ethanol, a key source of transportation fuel,” said Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels. “Range Fuels’ focus on green, renewable energy will ultimately reduce greenhouse gases, promote energy independence, and create new jobs.”
Range Fuels’ approach is aimed at helping our planet restore its environmental balance. Range Fuels’ technology is self-sustaining and uses the same feedstock to make ethanol as it does to operate its plant, minimizing its reliance on fossil fuels and the consequent production of greenhouse gases. Through Range Fuels’ innovative process for producing cellulosic ethanol, the Soperton Plant will use a quarter of the average water required by corn-based ethanol plants.
In addition, the Soperton Plant has been permitted as a minor source of emissions. Its proximity to both wood supplies and ethanol markets will minimize energy expended in supplying the facility with feedstock and providing ethanol to consumer markets, further demonstrating the low-impact, environmentally-friendly nature of Range Fuels’ technology.
Range Fuels has won the support of many industry and environmental groups including the Renewable Fuels Association, the American Coalition for Ethanol, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition and General Motors.
“Range Fuels’ groundbreaking on its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant presents an extraordinary opportunity to move the country into the next generation of biofuels that will help improve the environment and secure America’s energy independence,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President for the American Coalition for Ethanol. “Now, more than ever, it is critical for us to pursue clean-burning, homegrown, and cost-effective alternatives to foreign oil. Range Fuels is among the leaders in the biofuels industry and is poised to help us achieve these goals. I congratulate Range Fuels on this important day.”
“This groundbreaking clearly demonstrates that the next generation of biofuels are possible and reinforces that achieving the President’s goal of displacing 20 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption with alternative fuels by 2017 can become a reality,” said Bob Dineen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “Progress like this will additionally help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing ethanol production from processes that utilize sustainable supplies of biomass, like residue from timber harvesting and agricultural wastes.”
“On behalf of all the members of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC), we congratulate Range Fuels as they take this significant step forward in the development of cellulosic ethanol,” said Doug Durante, Executive Director of the CFDC. “This project will demonstrate that commercial production of cellulosic ethanol made from biomass or plant matter can be a reality. This facility will be one of many helping the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward energy independence.”
"Range Fuel's investment in this ethanol production facility is an important step toward the next generation of renewable fuels. Cellulosic ethanol has enormous potential for displacing gasoline and reducing emissions," said Beth Lowery, General Motors Vice President of Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy.
About Range Fuels, Inc.
Range Fuels, Inc., is focused on green energy and the production of cellulosic ethanol. The company does not use food products like corn, but rather uses waste materials and other non food sources and turns them into valuable products. The company's innovative technology uses wood chips, municipal waste, paper pulp, olive pits, and more, and converts those materials to ethanol. The company's system, named K2, uses a two step thermo-chemical conversion process. The first step converts the biomass to synthesis gas and the second step converts the gas to ethanol. The company's business model is to design, build, own and operate its plants. The company is privately held and funded by Khosla Ventures, LLC, arguably the top venture firm in the U.S. focusing on alternative, green energy systems. The leadership team melds experience from Silicon Valley's fast-paced, high-tech world, and the technologically intense coal, coal gasification, and gas-to-liquids industries. Range Fuels' vision is to introduce the world to a fuel that's renewable, sustainable, and eco-friendly in its production.
See also the Cleantech Interview with Mitch Mandich, CEO of Range Fuels, Inc.
NPR radio report on cellulosic ethanol and the Georgia groundbreaking.
technorati BIOconversion, bioenergy, biofuels, ethanol, syngas, cellulosic