Obama campaign tours Range Fuels in Colorado

By Kris Bevill | October 06, 2008
Web exclusive posted Oct. 16, 2008 at 4:57 p.m. CST

Colorado, traditionally a Republican state, has become a battleground state for the 2008 U.S. presidential election race. Recent polls vary between reporting a dead heat to a 10-percent lead for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Both Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Obama have made multiple trips to the state in recent weeks and continue to send campaign representatives to the area.

On Oct. 13, representatives from the Democratic Party including Frederico Pea, Obama's national campaign cochair, visited Range Fuels' pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Denver. The stop was part of a day-long New Energy Economy Tour focused on promoting Obama's energy policy. Pea was joined at Range Fuels by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.

Range Fuels chief executive officer Mitch Mandich hosted the group's facility tour and said that while his company remains politically neutral, he thought the tour was a great success. "We did our job in representing alternative fuels and green energy fuels to help give [the party representatives] confidence that alternative energy can be a reality and companies like ours are on the right track," he said.

Mandich said Range Fuels was selected to be featured on the tour because of its leadership role in advancing cellulosic ethanol. Other facilities on the tour included the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., and Sturman Industries, an engine technology company in Woodland Park, Colo.

The need for energy independence dominated discussion during the Range Fuels tour, according to Mandich. The group also discussed the need for domestically-produced jobs and climate change, both of which are issues that could be alleviated by the greater production of biofuels. The Democratic representatives said Obama's energy policy offers greater support for biofuels than McCain's, however, specifics on funding and actual implementation of the plan were not addressed.

Range Fuels' commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility in Soperton, Ga., is on schedule to be completed by late 2009, Mandich said. In spite of recent feedstock concerns vocalized by the domestic timber industry, he's not concerned about a possible lack of woody biomass and plans to use it as the primary feedstock at Soperton. "There is a huge abundance of woody biomass in the Southeast to support the existing industries that are already there, both timber being used for saw mills and also timber being used for the paper/pulp industry," he said. "I think some of the concern comes from the paper/pulp industry that has smaller margins in their business compared to what they perceive cellulosic ethanol to have." Mandich added that he looks at long-term usage and availability of woody biomass and doesn't perceive an impact on price. The timber industry might have some issues, but cellulosic ethanol is not the "root cause" of those issues, he said, adding that he hopes the two industries can work together so that cellulosic ethanol producers can utilize the unusable timber that is currently being left behind by the forest industry.