Verenium, Range Fuels progress

By Anna Austin | March 05, 2009
Range Fuels Inc., which is building a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Soperton, Ga., has new competition. Verenium Corp. has announced plans to build a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Highlands County, Fla.

The news came shortly after Verenium regained compliance with NASDAQ's listing requirements. The exchange requires listed companies to maintain a minimum market capitalization of $50 million, or total assets and total revenues of $50 million each for the most recently completed fiscal year, or for two of the three most recent fiscal years.

With that challenge overcome, Verenium said it will build a 36 MMgy biorefinery that takes in agricultural residues provided by Lykes Brothers Inc., a Florida agri-business. The company received a special use permit from Highlands County and is in the process of finalizing other necessary permit applications. Groundbreaking is slated for the second half of 2009. With an estimated construction period of 18 to 24 months, completion is slated for 2011. Verenium expects the $250 million to $300 million facility to provide approximately 140 full-time jobs.

In mid-February, Verenium took another step forward with its project, announcing the formation of a 50:50 joint venture with BP Amoco PLC. The oil giant had previously invested in Verenium. In particular, the venture, for which each company committed $45 million, will focus on the commercial-scale facility in Highlands County.

The project was also awarded a $7 million grant as part of Florida's Farm to Fuel initiative, a program designed to facilitate the development of Florida's renewable energy industry.

As for Range Fuels, the Broomfield, Colo.-based company received notification of the approval of funds to assist with the construction of its commercial-scale facility. The USDA notified the company in mid-January of a conditional commitment for an $80 million loan guarantee made possible through collaboration between the USDA Office of Rural Development, AgSouth Farm Credit and Range Fuels. The loan guarantee falls under the Section 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program authorized by the 2008 farm bill, which allows for grants covering up to 30 percent of the cost of developing and building demonstration-scale biorefineries. It also allows for loan guarantees of up to $250 million for the construction of commercial-scale biorefineries that produce advanced biofuels, or any fuel that is non-corn based.

Range Fuels broke ground for its 120 MMgy facility in late 2007. The company said plans are on track to complete its first phase, which involves a production capacity of 20 MMgy, in 2010.

The company's K2 system technology employs a two-step thermochemical process that converts biomass to synthesis gas and then ethanol. The plant will use feedstocks such as wood waste from the state's forests and mills.