Range Fuels secures $130 million for Georgia cellulosic ethanol project

By Bryan Sims | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 9, 2008 at 5:12 p.m. CST

Broomfield, Colo.-based cellulosic ethanol producer Range Fuels Inc. has completed an oversubscribed Series B round of private financing worth more than $130 million, which will be used towards the first phase of construction on its commercial cellulosic ethanol plant near Soperton, Ga.

The Series B round was led by Passport Capital of San Francisco. Other investors included BlueMountain, Khosla Ventures, Leaf Clean Energy Co. which was advised by EEA Fund Management Ltd and Shaw Capital, and Pacific Capital Group, with participation by California Employee Retirement System. Advanced Equity Incorporated and Morgan Stanley were the placement agents. Placement agents are companies that specialize in finding institutional investors who are willing and able to invest in a private equity fund or company issuing securities for a Series B round of financing.

"Range Fuels has an enormous market opportunity and is the company closest to commercializing cellulosic ethanol," said Walther Lovato, portfolio manager for Passport Capital. "Their technology and feedstock flexibility keeps costs low as they can deploy their plants near feedstock sources and quickly scale their business."

Range Fuels subsequently received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in November 2007 and a grant of $6 million from the state of Georgia. According to Range Fuels Chief Executive Officer Mitch Mandich, this round of private funding is the largest for a commercial cellulosic ethanol company to date.

"This [funding] certainly allows us to take our thermochemical approach and get it into the marketplace in Soperton," Mandich said. "We're very enthusiastic about our ability to continue the construction of the plant and move forward."

Range Fuels began construction of its 120 MMgy Soperton plant in November 2007, with excavation and site layout currently underway. The construction's first phase is slated to produce approximately 20 MMgy of ethanol and other mixed alcohols, with a targeted commissioning date set for 2009, Mandich said.

"We're pushing that very hard right now," Mandich said, adding the company is looking to post up-to-the-minute construction photos on its Web site in the near future. "You've just got to manage these long lead time items like alloys, specialty metals, tanks and boilers and such that sometimes are beyond our control to make sure we're working the various fabricators to get the material on site, but we're pushing very hard on all fronts right now."

Range Fuels, which will use woody biomass, chose its plant location because of Georgia's vast forests and the availability of sustainable, renewable and abundant biomass, in addition to the state's proven stewardship of its forest resources. The Georgia feedstock will be sustainably harvested forest trees and waste materials.

Range Fuels has also secured a multi-year feedstock contract for the cellulosic ethanol facility and has secured a multi-year off-take agreement for the purchase of ethanol from its Soperton plant and additional plants in the future.

Once the facility is complete, Range Fuels will utilize its unique proprietary K2 thermochemical process. Touted as more highly efficient than most competing cellulosic processes on the market today, which typically use conventional biochemical technology, Range Fuels' K2 system completely eliminates the use of enzymes, which have been an expensive component of traditional cellulosic ethanol production. It uses a two step process to convert biomass to a syngas, which is then converted to ethanol. The K2 technology transforms otherwise useless products such as wood chips, agricultural wastes, grasses, cornstalks, as well as hog manure, municipal garbage, sawdust and paper pulp into ethanol.

Traditional biochemical enzymatic approaches are typically burdened by $0.50 per gallon enzyme costs, if that target is achieved, and a total cost of production over $2 per gallon. Range Fuels' projects their costs to be significantly lower than both the enzymatic process and the current corn ethanol production costs that are near $2 per gallon.

Range Fuels' K2 process uses 75 percent less water than traditional corn dry-grind ethanol and is classified as a minor emitter to the environment with 60 percent less emissions compared to corn ethanol production. Range Fuels says the process also yields significantly more ethanol per ton of biomass than biochemical processes - and reduces the cost of fuel and the need for biomass and land. This significant cost advantage combined with a multi-year construction head start over competing cellulosic processes, has positioned Range Fuels as a leader in the race to commercialize cellulosic ethanol.

For more information on Range Fuels and its Soperton, Ga., cellulosic ethanol project, visit www.rangefuels.com/.