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Range Fuels produces cellulosic methanol

By Bryan Sims
Posted August 19, 2010, at 3:30 p.m. CST

Broomfield, Colo.-based cellulosic ethanol and biochemical company Range Fuels Inc. has successfully produced the first batches of cellulosic methanol at its facility near Soperton, Ga., using nonfood biomass. The Soperton plant is currently in its initial phase of development.

Though specific output volumes and rates of production weren't disclosed, President and CEO David Aldous said that production of its cellulosic methanol yielded promising results. "While sections of the plant have run above nameplate capacity and provided encouraging results, the total process has not yet come up to full design run rates," Aldous said. "This is typical for early runs on first-of-a-kind technology."

To produce cellulosic methanol and ethanol, Range Fuels employs a two-step thermochemical pathway that uses appropriate amounts of heat, pressure and steam to convert nonfood biomass, such as woody biomass and grasses, into a synthesis gas--or syngas--composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. From there, the syngas is passed over a proprietary catalyst to produce mixed alcohols that are separated and processed to yield a variety of low-carbon biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol and methanol.

According to the company, the cellulosic methanol produced from its first phase of operations has attracted buyers, but Aldous declined to disclose who those customers are. "We have buyers for the methanol as well as for the ethanol from the plant, but information on customers is confidential," he said.

Range Fuels intends to begin production of cellulosic ethanol during the third quarter of this year. The company initially plans to use woody biomass collected from nearby timber operations as feedstock. Plans are to integrate other types of renewable biomass feedstocks such as miscanthus and switchgrass as well. The company plans to expand the plant's capacity to 60 MMgy by summer 2011. The plant is permitted to produce a maximum nameplate capacity of 100 MMgy.

In addition to cellulosic methanol and ethanol products, Range Fuels intends to broaden its revenue stream by providing saleable byproducts such as biochar, which it sells as combustion fuel, according to Aldous. "We're also exploring its use in other higher-value applications such as carbon dioxide sequestration and in agricultural applications," he said. "The process also produces higher alcohols and we'll evaluate markets for these products as we continue operations."
 

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