Range Fuels Invents Low-Carbon, Renewable Fuel
In the United States, vehicles use more gasoline each year than the entire U.S. oil industry produces. Fleets and personal vehicles are ultimately responsible for most of the pollution and damage caused by the oil extraction industry. As the U.S. actively tries to alleviate its dependence on foreign oil, many groundbreaking new fuel solutions have surfaced. Many argue that U.S. energy independence can never be achieved. Then, there are those who vehemently believe that the solution to the imported oil problem, and its inherent threats, could be just around the corner.
Realistically, it will take time to solve a problem that has perpetuated itself over decades, but David Aldous, an energy industry veteran and CEO of Range Fuels, believes it can. He says,
He goes on, “Clean fuels create a significant economic opportunity for the U.S. It brings independence and security to the U.S. with a clean fuel supply. It also creates jobs and mitigates a substantial transfer of wealth out of the U.S.”
Cellulosic Biofuels: The Zero Carbon-Footprint Fuel
“Addressing climate change is important. It is no longer a debate about the science anymore, but a discussion on what we are going to do to address it.”
Concern about the environmental and political costs of our nation’s 140 billion–gallon a year gasoline addiction has never been higher. Recent polls have found that 91 percent of Americans believe our nation is facing an energy crisis and 86 percent say they want their government to help develop alternative energy sources.
In the U.S., transportation is the largest single source of air pollution - producing nearly two-thirds of the carbon monoxide, a third of the nitrogen oxides, and a quarter of the hydrocarbons in our atmosphere. Transportation consumes nearly 21 billion barrels of oil annually – of which 60 percent is imported.
Addressing these concerns will take time, however, many companies are developing and introducing fuel alternatives – biofuels and other clean burning fuels derived from non-food biomass sources - that could cut emissions significantly and quickly.
Denver-based Range Fuels has created a low-carbon fuels company focused on the production of cellulosic ethanol that considers… “Everything we do, everything we use, and everything we create is evaluated by one simple question: have we taken no more than we have returned?”
Range Fuels’ fuel-grade ethanol, one of the company’s renewable fuel products, is targeted specifically at the transportation industry.
The company converts biomass – from plant and plant-derived materials such as wood, switch grass, corn stover, and even olive pits - using clean energy technologies, to produce ethanol that has no net greenhouse gas effects.
Furthermore, their plants are expected to use less water than typical corn ethanol plants.
The company produces cellulosic biofuels using its proprietary two-step thermo-chemical process which uses heat, pressure, and steam to convert biomass into synthesis gas or syngas. The syngas is then passed over a proprietary catalyst to ultimately create ethanol for blending with gasoline as a transportation fuel, methanol and other alcohols.
The company’s approach to building facilities near biomass sources minimizes transportation energy from the equation. This is the case with Range Fuels’ first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant located near Soperton, Georgia, which is positioned near significant and sustainable supplies of wood and wood waste. This plant will initially use wood and leftover wood residues from nearby timber operations. Construction on the first phase of the plant is expected to be completed in early 2010 with operations following in the second quarter of 2010. At full capacity, the Soperton Plant is permitted to produce over 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol annually.
Petroleum to Biofuels: The Challenges and Potential Benefits
Range Fuels Soperton Plant, Soperton, Georgia Recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council suggested that, “by 2050, biofuels – especially those known as cellulosic biofuels – could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 billion tons per year.” That’s equal to more than 80 percent of current transportation-related emissions or the equivalent of more than three times as much oil as we currently import from the Persian Gulf. And if combined with better vehicle efficiency and smart-growth urban planning, biofuels could virtually eliminate our demand for gasoline over the next 35 – 40 years.
And because ethanol does not need to be drilled or pumped, it leaves America’s coasts and wildlands unscathed. It is produced from fully renewable and fully sustainable resources – a fuel we can find at home and recover from our own fields, forests, and farmlands, or even from our own garbage dumps.
However, ethanol’s critics have suggested that demand for the fuel could outstrip the agricultural land available to grow the corn to make it. That objection vanishes when cellulosic sources are factored in.
Additionally, energy crops grown to produce cellulosic ethanol yield two to three times more biomass per acre than corn. That means far less land is needed to produce far more cellulosic ethanol. Researchers from the Rocky Mountain Institute explain it this way: “Cellulosic ethanol will typically have twice the ethanol yield of corn-based ethanol, at lower capital cost, with far better net energy yield.”
Another challenge facing expansion of the biofuels industry rests with the lack of availability of vehicles capable of using higher blends of ethanol with gasoline (E85 or a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline), and the lack of infrastructure to deliver E85 to the market. There are approximately 240 million cars in the U.S., but only about six million, or a little more than 2%, are “flex-fuel” or “dual-fuel” vehicles, which can run on both conventional gasoline and E85. And, because only about 1% of the filling stations in the U.S. offer E85 (1,900 of approximately 170,000 filling stations), access to E85 for those with flex-fuel vehicles is limited.
Although E85 availability is limited, research indicates that the impact of E85 use on greenhouse gas emissions is impressive. Fueling a car with E85 with the ethanol made from corn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, according to studies by Argonne National Laboratory. However, the benefits will increase as larger amounts of ethanol are produced from cellulosic sources, such as agricultural waste that is currently burned or left to decompose.
A joint U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture study completed in 2005 estimated that the nation’s forest and agricultural lands could sustainably produce 1.3 billion tons of biomass each year – enough to produce biofuels to meet more than one-third of the demand for transportation fuels.
Furthermore, when compared to other alternative fuel processes - like sugar platforms - the thermo-chemical conversion process Range Fuels utilizes to convert non-food biomass into cellulosic biofuels has a number of value-added features including lower front-end processing costs, greater conversion efficiencies, greater feedstock flexibility, lower water consumption, faster process time, and fewer by-products.
The Economy & Biofuels
When E85 with cellulosic ethanol is used, cellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle mile traveled by 89 percent.
Right now, the U.S. economy is something of a detriment to many companies in the “new energy” sector, In fact, access to capital, federal grants, and the credit crunch have caused a slowdown in construction within the industry due to lack of capital. Aldous says, “Even though there is interest in our technologies outside of the U.S. by energy importers, we are only focused on a national plan due to limited funding sources.”
Range Fuels is on a journey to dominate the biomass to energy business by creating a cost competitive, low-carbon fuel alternative to gasoline. It is not an experimental or theoretical technology.
Ethanol is a burgeoning American industry that has already attracted a high level of investment and ingenuity. It recycles waste, revitalizes agriculture, and reduces air pollution. It can help us reverse global warming and achieve energy independence. Ethanol is ready to power the engine of environmental and economic sustainability.
All we have to do is put it in our cars and drive off into the future.