Another Renewable Fuels Project Fails: Taxpayers Pick Up the Bill Again


Easier than burning cellulosic ethanol

The Range Fuels cellulosic ethanol plant in Georgia was supposed to turn pine trees into ethanol to fuel automobiles. It failed and has now been sold for pennies on dollar. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:

The Range fiasco harkens other, failed renewable energy companies that received major taxpayer funding. California solar panel maker Solyndra got $535 million in federal loan guarantees. Beacon Power of Massachusetts, which makes energy-storage equipment, took in $43 million in federal money. Both filed for bankruptcy last year.

Range cost U.S. taxpayers $64 million and Georgia taxpayers another $6.2 million. Tuesday's sale netted $5.1 million which will help offset losses suffered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Georgia's money, which paid for some of the ethanol-making equipment, won't be recouped outright, but state officials expect LanzaTech [new owner] to use the machinery….

The Bush administration's Energy Department steered a $76 million federal grant to Range. The Department of Agriculture followed up with an $80 million loan guarantee. Georgia officials pledged $6.2 million. Treutlen County, one of the state's poorest, offered 20 years worth of tax abatements and 97 acres in its industrial park.

Private investors reportedly put up $158 million. In all, the project raised more than $320 million.

Range, unable to turn wood into ethanol, closed its doors a year ago. It never came close to creating the 70 jobs once promised.

The numbers in the article don't quite add up: If one includes the DOE grant of $76 million plus the $80 million USDA loan guarantee, the total loss to taxpayers would seem to amount to $156 million.

In any case, read the whole article here.

NEXT: in Iowa: Rick Santorum on the Freedom to Impose Your Values

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. double post

    1. very clever

  2. double post

    1. very clever

  3. Listen, I have an idea to test the power possibilities inherent in quantum entanglement. Send me, I dunno, $5 billion, and I’ll get back to you in a couple of years.

  4. Switch grass, corn stalks I had heard of but Pine Trees? What a needles effort…

    1. That joke was bad, and you should feel bad.

      1. It was too acorny.

        1. No, it was coney.

    2. I know Buckeye is building a pilot plant in N FL for the same sort of stuff, in conjunction with a UF-based team. However, all of the UF team’s previous work is on sugar-cane bagasse, so they’ll be trucking sugarcane waste to a papermill for a while. But honestly, I don’t see how you can make cellulosic ethanol competitive with simple sugars or starches to ethanol because it requires an extra step. Now cellulosic lactose and other starter chemicals for the plastics industry, that might one day make money.

      1. I did some research at UF in the 80s, and I think they have plenty of ethanol available already. Perhaps too much.

        1. Yeah, but the government monsters require this alcohol to be… denatured. The brutes.

          1. Well that would kill thousands of students.

      2. But honestly, I don’t see how you can make cellulosic ethanol competitive with simple sugars or starches to ethanol because it requires an extra step.

        If the raw material is cheaper, perhaps?

        1. It’s hard to get cheap enough to offset that cost. It’s more than a single added step. There are significant capital and operating costs that are hard to overcome with cheaper feedstock i n this case.

      3. But honestly, I don’t see how you can make cellulosic ethanol competitive with simple sugars or starches to ethanol because it requires an extra step.

        If the cellulosic ethanol is waste products that are free, theoretically it could be cheaper than paying for sugars despite the extra step.

        In practice, both are more expensive, absent subsidies, than good ol fossil fuels for at least the near future.

        1. Ooops, didn’t page down and see R C’s post.

  5. So what else is the Gubmint trying to turn into ethanol? Road kill? Stale bread? Cheese?

    1. Don’t forget Soylenthol.

      1. Soylenthol is PEOPLE!

  6. How about a mere $7 billion for a project to turn internet trolls into fingerless fuckmops for the federal prision system?

    1. Or a grant so this website can finally get a preview button?

    2. You could derive energy from their pointless indignation and quantum incoherence: Nuclear confusion.

  7. And what’s sad is that ethanol really isn’t the best use of waste biomass, biogas is, ethanol can just be used in gasoline engines so that’s why people keep trying to make it.

    1. Or they could have at least tried to make methanol.

      1. How much Sudafed would it take to make enough methanol to fuel a car?

  8. Everything about this project seems pants on head stupid.
    1. Use relatively slow-growing, land-intensive, otherwise useful (thus competition for supply) crop as your raw material.
    2. Create an industrial-scale plant for a technology that is in the R&D stage.
    3. Put your R&D-stage plant in Soperton, Georgia.

    1. Pine trees: not exactly a fast growing crop.

      1. The issue is not how fast individual plants grow, but how fast they convert nutrients into biomass.

        TBS, I doubt that any tree is going to add mass as quickly as, say, hemp. ;)))

        1. In theory, you’d think we’d be able to engineer something that would work better. Are GM energy sources okay?

        2. If Hemp could cure cancer and reverse aging, they’d still be agin it.

          1. It does and they are.

      2. Well, except that they are when you own millions of acres and havest a few hundred thousand a year.

    2. Everything about this project seems pants on head stupid.

      That explains why Congress thought it was a great idea.

      1. Good one.

        But if you want to know why Congress thinks something is a good idea, follow the money.

    3. Just so you know, they’ve been growing pine for turpentine and later pulp in that part of GA forever. The Georgia Pacific company got out of rail and into that business because the margin was better. There’s a good chance they built it on an old or current pulp plant site. But yeah, that was an expensive pilot plant.

      1. I did a lot of research on ethanol production years ago (I thought I was going to get rich saving the world, so I became a chemical envineer) and was very disappointed when I found there was no way using forseeably available technology that ethanol could be economically zelf sustaining as an energy source. While others managed to fool themselves by accepting subsidies, their chickens are coming home to roost.

        1. What if we terraformed Mars, used its entire surface to grow biofuel friendly plants, converted them to biofuel, then shipped them to Earth. Would that work?

          1. If I go to mars and terraform it, I’ll sell you Earthlings whatever fuel you can afford.

            1. That’s fair enough. After all, we are not communists.

        2. Yep. My one semester as a PhD candidate was working with a group doing cellulostic ethanol. They were fairly certain you could pretreat with a method similar to pulp production (cheap, easy to recover and the solvent didn’t kill the fermenting bugs) but its fucking slow. I stand by my estimate that $7/gallon gas over a sustained period is necessary to make alt.fuels economically viable. Even then, you’d do better at making an alternative to petroleum-based feedstock chemicals and let them sell oil for gas while you sell renewable plastic precursors.

          1. $7/gal sounds about right to me. 🙁 I think I calculated it as about $8.50 back in the day. Currently gas is about $8.00/gal in Tokyo (per a coworker).

  9. Why don’t we just build a power plant that burns money? It has to be more cost-effective than this.

  10. Fucktarded federal government is fucktarded. I wouldn’t trust these fuckers to wash my fucking dishes, let alone invest taxpayer money.

    1. You mean fucking taxpayer money, right?

      1. I wanted to, but I refrained — four instances of the word “fuck is sufficient.

  11. Maybe if we had two Christmas’s we could get double the black friday sales, and double the amount of roadside pine trees to fuel our cars.

    Two birds with one stone.

  12. “Private investors reportedly put up $158 million.”

    I understand the government doing this. The politicians were spending someone else’s money and taking money to do it. But who is dumb enough to invest their own money into a renewable energy project?

    1. Just like with Solyndra, I understand one of the private crony investors is going to walk away with the assets for pennies on the dollar.

      1. That is what can make this shit attractive to some people. If you can hang in and get the salvage value, you’re OK. These plants mostly have state of the art control systems and can be sold piecemeal on EBay (no kidding) and through places like Aaron Equipment for serious dinero if you buy them out for pennies on the dollar.

  13. This ethanol alchemy is distinct from the various schemes to create biofuels by raising vast plastic bagged algae colonies in the southwestern desert nourished by the output of the entire Colorado River.

  14. This arose during the Bush administration, so it is a nice example of the bipartisanship of stupidity. (and vice versa)

    However, I wonder what congresscritters were pushing this one.

    1. Congresscritters from States with lots of Pine Trees?

    2. The DOE doesn’t create its own programs. They can only get money from Congress. This program was no doubt created and mandated in the DOE budget by Congress.

      Not saying Republicans didn’t do it. But it probably wasn’t Obama or Bush behind it. This was entirely Congress’s doing. When Congress tells the executive “here go spend this money on that”, the executive has no choice but to comply.

      1. When Congress tells the executive “here go spend this money on that”, the executive has no choice but to comply.

        No, the executive has the choice to tell Congress, “Spending money on this is not an enumerated power granted Congress, so even though you overrode my veto, I won’t spend the money and violate my oath of office.”

        Then Congress can either STFU or move to impeach.

        1. That’s probably what will happen if Ron Paul gets elected president. Not sure if congress would STFU or move to impeach, but considering their inability to ever STFU…

  15. What are the most viable and practical of alternative energy solutions? Biofuel seems like a waste of time, and it only solves some of the problems we’re concerned about while creating new ones.

    Why not focus on solar, nuclear (fission and fusion), and maybe to a lesser extent on some other novel approaches?

    1. Fusion? The energy of the future!

      1. It should be [Looks out window at giant fusion reactor]. Be nice if we could figure it out.

        1. Math is hard.

    2. Without heavy subsidies most alternative power sources cannot be economically viable using available or soon-to-be-available tech, sadly.

      1. Meant to include this link.….._3955.html

      2. Leaving aside the funding issue for a moment, if research uncovers a viable technology, investors could be found to deploy it in a manner that makes it economically viable.

        Look at fusion. If we figure out how to make it work technically, I doubt seriously that deployment is going to be the big problem. It’s the technological hurdle that’s the key problem.

        1. Granted. Fusion holds the most promise for “clean” energy. I also like the liquid fluoridated thorium breeder reactor concept.

          1. I read about that in Popular Mechanics a few months ago. Or maybe that was Popular Science–I get both. Sounds promising, and it goes to show that we haven’t really dug deeply enough into fission’s potential.

            1. Saw it in Wired sometime last spring, I think.

              It was the last I heard of it, despite it sounding well and truly awesome.

        2. No, the key problem will be NIMBYs and anti-nuclear types.

          1. For fusion? Ye gods, I hope not.

            1. It’s still “nuclear.”

    3. Nuclear fission? LOL

      The enviros would go apeshit.

      NPR (NPR!) reported this am that electricity generated by natural gas is cheaper that that generated by nuclear, solar and wind.

      1. Of course it is. Fission is the obvious answer right now, but a lot would have to change for it to work cheaply.

      2. Tell that to all the gas turbines sitting idle every winter in the northeast.

    4. Biofuel could be useful as a supplement – using waste vegetable oil & animal fats for biodiesel and waste paper for methanol production. It will probably never be viable as a primary source.

      1. ^THIS^

        WVO Biodiesel and ***MMM***ethanol on a small community scale works here, in Europe and South America … not as a replacement but as an *enhancement* to the fuel supply …If only ADM could get off the Gov’t teat …

  16. Another Renewable Fuels Project Fails: Taxpayers Pick Up the Bill Again

    Yay! That is what I call progress!

    Because if you’re against money-losing “innovations,” you’re a Luddite! Just ask Neu Mejican, he told me so.

    1. Do you complain about wasting money every time some clinical trial fails during federally funded pharmaceutical or biomedical research?

  17. I know something that they could try converting into fuel… kudzu. Shit’s all over the south and keeps spreading. I don’t ever see a “peak kudzu” crisis going on. It grows fast and spreads like a disease.

    1. Spreads like a disease is right. I keep expecting to see a made for SyFy Channel movie like that. Kudzu vs MegaOctoCrocoPirannaSharksaurus or something.

      1. Turns out goats are kudzu’s natural solution.

  18. Who comes up with all that crazy stuff. Wow.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.