Range Fuels, Ceres collaborate on biomass research

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted Sept. 11, 2008 at 3:30 p.m. CST

Colorado-based Range Fuels Inc., a potential commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol producer, and California-based Ceres Inc., an energy crop seed developer, have formally announced their collaboration to research, develop and commercialize energy crop feedstocks for ethanol production. The two companies began working together during the 2008 spring planting season and plan to continue the collaboration for several years.

Range Fuels is currently in the process of constructing its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility near Soperton, Ga. A Range Fuels spokeswoman confirmed that construction on the 20 MMgy is on schedule and the test phase is scheduled to begin sometime in 2009. Local woody biomass was initially targeted as the main feedstock for the facility. According to Range Fuels' Web site, the proximity of that feedstock is one reason why the company chose to locate the facility near Soperton. However, the company's spokeswoman said it is also considering other biomass feedstocks and has partnered with Ceres to explore those options.

In the spring of 2008, Ceres helped Range Fuels establish 5-acre test plots of various switchgrass varieties and high-biomass sorghum near the Soperton facility. Ceres Corporate Communications Manager Gary Koppenjan declined to release the total acreage involved in the test site, but said it's Ceres' agenda to use field data generated from the Soperton site to identify the best mix of crops and varieties for agricultural producers in the Southeast.

"We have established the largest network of energy crop trials in the nation, including collaborative trials like this one with Range Fuels," Koppenjan said. "Together, the field data we generate from this trial network will help farmers get a better sense of what yields to expect as well as what the economics of harvesting and handling biomass from high-yield sources looks like."

Mitch Mandich, chief executive officer at Range Fuels, said the Ceres collaboration will aid the company's efforts in improving their operating cost structure. "Understanding how we might use a variety of purpose-grown biomass feedstocks in our conversion process will be especially meaningful since our proprietary K2 system, the thermo-chemical conversion process being applied at our Soperton plant, has the capability to process a variety of biomass feedstocks," he said.