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Range Fuels Taps Ceres For Grass to Gas Plans

Cellulosic biofuel startup Range Fuels is getting ready to reap what it has sown with its biomass feedstock partner Ceres, an energy crop company. Range Fuels announced the partnership for a multi-year test of commercial varieties of switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum planted near its Soperton Plant site in Georgia. Range Fuels will use the dedicated energy crops to produce biofuel using its thermo-chemical conversion process, which the company says can convert sundry feedstocks like wood chips, paper pulp and olive pits into fuel. The financial details of the partnership were not disclosed.

The Soperton plant is scheduled to come online in 2009 and is expected to produce 100 million gallons of fuel a year. Its primary feedstock will be waste from the Georgia forestry industry, but the partnership with Ceres is designed to test the economic, environmental and logistical attributes of grasses as a feedstock. While it hasn’t come out and said it will be aiming for the golden $1 a gallon mark competitors like Coskata, Range Fuels has said it projects its costs to be significantly lower than both the enzymatic process and the current corn ethanol production costs, which are near $2 per gallon.

Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Ceres genomically enhances energy crops like switchgrass, sorghum and miscanthus and sells the seed under the brand name Blade Energy Crops replete with an ever growing list of hyphenated features: low-input, non-invasive, low-carbon, non-food, low-impact and high-yield. Some of largest players in next-gen biofuel space have turned to genetics to enhance their feedstocks including DuPont and Monsanto through a partnership with Mendel Biotechnology.

Both startups are well funded; Range Fuels collected a cool $100 million in April and Ceres pulled in $75 million a year ago.