SOPERTON, GA -- Managers of a plant engineered and built to produce oil-alternative ethanol from cellulose wood are scrambling to find cash to reopen the facility that has already exhausted $320 million split almost evenly between investor and taxpayer monies.

Range Fuels Inc. of Broomfield, CO, announced on August 17, that it had "produced cellulosic methanol ... using non-wood biomass."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that  Range Fuels produced about 100,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol from Georgia pine waste before shutting down operations in January. That was far short of the 20-million-gallon goal that the company had set to achieve in that time period.

The newspaper said Range Fuels, backed by dot-com billionaire Vinod Khosla, received approximately $162 million in local, state and federal grants, loans and other subsidies. Back in 2007, when the project was getting started, Kholsa reportedly declared war on U.S. oil dependence, saying that “cellulosic ethanol is the weapon we need.”

Range Fuels' Funding Sources

Range Fuels reportedly raised and
received approximately $320 million
in funds, including private investment,
government grants and loans, state and
local tax breaks and other sources.

The three largest chunks of money,
according to Range Fuels' web site,
included:

Nov. 6, 2007 - Range Fuels receives $76
appropriation from the U.S. Department
of Energy for phase one of the commercial
cellulosic ethanol plant.

April 1, 2008 - Range Fuels says it raised
more than $100 million in Series B
Financing from private investors and that
construction of phase one was underway.

Jan. 19, 2009 - U.S. Department of
Agrirculture awards Range Fuels $80
million loan guarantee.

According to the Soperton News, plant manager Bud Klepper said company continues to seek financing to reopen the plant.

WSJ Chimes in
The Wall Street Journal recently savaged the project in an article titled, "The Range Fuels Fiasco: A Case Study in the Politcally Directed Investment." The article observed that Range Fuels is rooted to President George W. Bush's 2006 State of the Union Address, in which he cited cellulosic ethanol as a possible cure for America's dependence on oil.

A year later, the U.S. Department of Energy doled out a $76 million grant to Range Fuels to help build the plant in Soperton. Nearly $250 million more in federal, state, county and investor money soon followed.

Reacting to the recent plant closing, Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington, insisted that the government turn its attention to getting back its money. “Cellulosic ethanol might be a better alternative for the environment, but the government needs to act with fiduciary responsibility and take care of tax dollars to minimize our risk,” she said.

The plan behind the mega expense was for Range to produce cullulosic ethanol from tree limbs, grasses, cornstalks, hog manure, municipal garbage and other sources that would be blended with gasoline. 

Range projected that the Soperton factory would have the capacity to produce 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year and would be the first of a dozen plants throughout Georgia, the Journal Constitution said. The fuel was touted as clean, easy to produce from waste and able to provide 194 jobs at the Soperton plant alone.

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