What Happened to Range Fuels?
With the fate of the Range Fuels Inc. cellulosic biofuels production facility in question, the potential for cellulosic methanol to generate RINs (renewable identification numbers) could also hang in the balance. In November, the U.S. EPA included Range Fuels as one of a handful of cellulosic biofuel producers that it expected to actually produce measurable amounts of fuel this year. When it finalized the 2011 renewable fuel standard (RFS) volumes on Nov. 29, the EPA said it expected Range Fuels to produce 2.3 million ethanol equivalent gallons of fuel this year—100,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 2.9 million gallons of cellulosic methanol. But in early January, Range Fuels unexpectedly announced it had laid off “a handful” of workers at its headquarters in Broomfield, Colo., and at the production facility in Soperton, Ga.
On Jan. 11, a company spokesman said the Soperton plant was producing methanol and was expecting to produce cellulosic ethanol by Jan. 14. But in the following days, CEO David Aldous was quoted by local media as saying that the plant would be temporarily closed while the company worked to raise more financing and correct technological difficulties. It is unclear if or when operations will begin again. EPM was unable to reach a spokesman for the company for a comment.
The EPA says Range Fuels has provided information that demonstrates the company’s intent to produce methanol in 2011. In the meantime, the EPA will continue to monitor the industry’s overall progress toward meeting this year’s cellulosic biofuels goal of 6 million ethanol-equivalent gallons. An agency spokeswoman says the EPA is also still working to develop a RIN-generating pathway for cellulosic methanol, with input from Range Fuels. On Jan. 27, an agency spokeswoman said the EPA is continuing to investigate how best to analyze a situation in which renewable methanol made by one party is used by another party in the production of biodiesel. “Range Fuels is currently assembling their formal petition, but in our discussions with them we have already discussed much of what the petition will cover, allowing us to begin the analytical work,” she says.
The EPA says it believes biodiesel producers would utilize a RIN-generating cellulosic methanol pathway, but it is unaware of any company other than Range Fuels pursuing the production of cellulosic methanol. Quebec-based Enerkem has said it will produce methanol and ethanol at its municipal solid waste-to-ethanol facilities using a thermochemical approach, the method employed by Range Fuels, but it does not plan to contribute to the 2011 RFS.