Range Fuels Lays Off Workers, Plans to Meet 2011 Target

Here’s the bad news from next-gen biofuel producer Range Fuels: The company has let some workers go. But the good news the company wants you to know, is that Range Fuels is still planning to produce enough cellulosic ethanol to meet a government estimate for 2011.

News about the layoffs emerged Monday, and company spokesman Patrick Wright confirmed it with us. Wright said the company laid off “a handful of people in Colorado and Georgia,” but declined to disclose the number or reasons. In the same email reply, Wright said that the company could possibly start producing ethanol this week at its plant near Soperton, Ga.

“The Soperton plant is running and is producing methanol and we expect to produce ethanol this week,” Wright wrote Tuesday. In a phone conversation, Wright said the company plans to meet a 2011 production goal set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He declined to answer more questions about the company’s ethanol production plan. We’ll update the story if we hear more.

Range Fuels is one of the five companies the EPA projected will be able to produce 6.6 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel in 2011. A 2007 law required the EPA to set mandates for different types of fuels that can be blended into gasoline and diesel. Those mandates are supposed to lead the country to produce 36 billion gallons in 2022.

Lawmakers nurtured ambitious goals to wean the country off the use of fossil fuels. But meeting those goals has proven extremely difficult, mainly because many biofuel companies with promising technologies ran into technical problems or were unable to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build a commercial plant. Or both.

Congress initially set the 2010 target for cellulosic biofuel at 100 million gallons, but the EPA cut that to 6.5 million gallons. It appears the industry might have produced less than 1 million gallons last year, reported ClimateWire Tuesday, citing an estimate by a government analyst. EPA’s estimates are partly based on input from biofuel producers.

The EPA expects Range Fuels to produce 100,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 2.9 million gallons of methanol at its Georgia plant in 2011. Although methanol doesn’t meet the current definition of cellulosic biofuel, the EPA said it’s considering changing that. The agency already counted the projected methanol production for Range Fuels in its 2011 goal. The company is using wood wastes as the primary feedstock.

Aside from Range Fuels, the other four producers that could contribute to the 2011 pool are DuPont Danisco (s dft), Fiberight, KL Energy and KiOR.

Range Fuels began producing methanol last summer. At the time, Aldous said the plant had “less than 10 million gallons” of annual production capacity, but the plan was to expand it to 60 million gallons. Construction was to start this summer.

Aldous told Colorado newspaper the Daily Camera this week that the recession and what he called a “public apathy toward green fuels” have hampered the company’s progress. “The critical issue is really that there’s no mechanism to price carbon today,” he told the newspaper. The newspaper also reported that there was a “problem with the feed system at its plant.”

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Photo courtesy of Nancy Qian