November 9, 2007 The production of ethanol as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuel throws up a number of challenges - in particular it has been argued that the amount of land required to produce crops for ethanol fuel production is too great, taking away land that is needed for food production. The use of cellulosic biomass to make commercial ethanol has been seen as a possible solution to this problem and now Range Fuels has now announced plans for the first commercial ethanol plant in the U.S. to use cellulosic biomass.
Advances in biotechnology mean that straw and other plant wastes can be transformed into what is called cellulosic ethanol. While chemically identical to ethanol produced from corn or soybeans, cellulosic ethanol exhibits energy content three times higher than corn ethanol and emits low levels of greenhouse gases. Unlike corn, wheat, rice and soybeans, cellulosic biomass doesn't compete with food crops and estimates have put its level of production as high as 2,000 gallons of renewable petroleum per acre. Range Fuels’ Soperton Plant in Georgia 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.
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. "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 technology to be used at the plant 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. The Soperton Plant will use a quarter of the average water required by corn-based ethanol plants and 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.
As part of its $76 million Technology Investment Agreement with the Department of Energy (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. Construction of the first 20 million-gallon-per-year phase is expected to be completed in 2008.