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LanzaTech Buys Range Fuels Facility

Cleantech: New owner will bring its approach to making biofuels

by Melody M. Bomgardner
January 16, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 3

Credit: LanzaTech
LanzaTech is the new owner of this biofuel plant in Soperton, Ga.
Aerial photo of Range Fuels plant in Soperton, GA. The feedstock is woody biomass waste from surrounding timber operations. Bought by LanzaTech at auction
Credit: LanzaTech
LanzaTech is the new owner of this biofuel plant in Soperton, Ga.

New Zealand-based biofuels start-up Lanza­Tech purchased a facility in Soperton, Ga.—previously owned by Range Fuels—at auction on Jan. 3 for $5.1 million. Range built the biomass gasification plant with the intention of making ethanol from wood chips, but the firm was unable to make the biofuel.

Range’s lender took control of the facility for nonpayment and held the auction to recoup some of a $38 million loan, which had been guaranteed by the Department of Agriculture. Range was also awarded a $43 million grant from the Department of Energy.

LanzaTech will evaluate the equipment at the Soperton site before it decides how it will use the property, says Freya Burton, the firm’s head of external relations. “We are planning to leave up some of the plant’s technology—potentially the gasifier. If it works, that would be fantastic,” Burton says. If the gasifier does not work, she adds, the plant is still a good buy. “We got the facility for its location and access to cheap feedstocks from local timber operations.”

The technologies from both LanzaTech and Range Fuels are geared to produce ethanol from biomass-derived synthesis gas. The two privately held firms also share a venture capital investor: famed clean technology backer Vinod Khosla.

Range planned to use catalysts to convert the wood-derived gas into ethanol. In contrast, LanzaTech’s process uses proprietary microbes to transform the gas to ethanol. In addition to ethanol, LanzaTech’s microbes produce 2,3-butanediol as a coproduct, Burton reports. Both products can be formulated into jet fuel with help from LanzaTech’s partner firms.

The bargain price of the facility—and LanzaTech’s unique microbe—makes the move low risk, says Andrew Soare, clean technology analyst for Lux Research. “It could demonstrate that LanzaTech can go from gas to fuel, whereas other firms with gasification are having trouble getting all the way to ethanol.”

The Soperton site, already renamed Freedom Pines Biorefinery, will be LanzaTech’s first production facility. The firm is currently working to launch a demonstration facility in Shanghai that will use waste gases from a steel mill operated by China’s Shougang Group to produce biofuels.



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