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.