Thursday, April 03, 2008

Profit-Based Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Startup 2009

Range Fuels Inc. will begin producing 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year in 2009, with plans to scale up to 120 million gpy. The plant will use gasification to convert biomass to syngas. Then the syngas will be converted to liquid fuels--initially ethanol.
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).

  1. * Fuel production costs “significantly less” than either enzymatic cellulosic ethanol or corn-grain ethanol, the latter of which currently costs about $2/gallon.
  2. * Higher fuel production rates for each ton of biomass than enzymatic and corn-grain ethanol, which decreases cost, biomass needed, and land use.
  3. * Uses 75 percent less water than corn ethanol and 60% lower emissions than corn-grain ethanol
  4. * Cost competitive with gasoline as long as oil stays above $50/barrel.
Range Fuels is in a race with Coskata to be the first to produce large scale cellulosic ethanol by an affordable and sustainable process. Coskata claims to be on track to begin production by the end of this year. Both companies appear to have secured sufficient financing to build pilot production plants using gasification technology.

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