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First next-generation U.S. biofuels plant

18 March 2009

Second-generation biofuels company Range Fuels, has formed a strategic relationship with Emerson Process Management to help bring online the first commercial cellulosic biofuels plant in the United States.

First next-generation U.S. biofuels plant into commercial production
First next-generation U.S. biofuels plant into commercial production

Range Fuels selected Emerson as its main automation contractor for the Soperton, Georgia, plant, which will use non-edible biomass such as timber and wood waste generated by nearby forestry operations, to produce more than 375 million litres of ethanol and methanol annually.

Emerson also is the main automation contractor for Range Fuels’ existing pilot plant in Denver, which was designed to optimise the proprietary and patented thermo-chemical process that converts timber and wood feedstock into fuel.

“We expect to shorten our project cycles and ramp up to production target levels safely and efficiently with Emerson’s assistance,” said Bill Schafer, senior vice president, business development, Range Fuels. “Our intent is to replicate this plant and to strategically establish additional plants near feedstock sources in the United States.”

Emerson’s engineering expertise, and process control and automation technologies, have enabled Range Fuels to test and refine its processes at its Denver, USA optimisation plant, which successfully demonstrated to government partners and financial backers the commercial viability of its biomass-to-ethanol conversion technology. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded Range Fuels an 80 million USD, (63 million Euros) loan guarantee, the first ever for a cellulosic ethanol plant.

As the main automation contractor for the Soperton plant, Emerson is assessing risks and defining protocol, engineering, and automation standards that will allow Range Fuels to lower risks, reduce downtime, and run reliably and efficiently to meet its production goal of more than 375 million litres of ethanol and methanol annually. Production at the Soperton plant is expected to begin in 2010.

In addition to Emerson’s engineering expertise, Range Fuels is using Emerson’s PlantWeb digital automation and safety technology. This is ideally suited to Range Fuels’ Soperton facility and the emerging alternative fuels industry due to its network of digital systems and intelligent field devices. The technology is easy to use and enables end users to address special applications and maximise plant performance and safety while delivering operations and maintenance efficiency.

“We are delighted to have a strategic relationship with Range Fuels, which is clearly an innovative leader in this emerging alternative fuels industry,” said Steve Sonnenberg, president, Emerson Process Management. “We’ve been honoured to work with them from inception, beginning with process development in the lab and at the process plant, continuing to the commercial facility in Georgia, and certainly expanding to more plants in the future. We are committed to their success and that of the overall industry as it helps resolve the world’s declining oil supply and meets increased demand for alternative fuels.”

Emerson will supply Range Fuels with its best-in-class product range and services that comprise PlantWeb digital plant architecture, including its Fisher Fieldvue digital valve controllers and valves, Rosemount transmitters, Rosemount Analytical analysers, Daniel flow meters, and Micro Motion Coriolis flow meters. Also supplied will be PlantWeb process control and asset optimisation technologies including DeltaVdigital automation systems and AMS Suite predictive maintenance software as well as its digital safety system, DeltaV SIS. Many of the field devices are available in Smart Wireless networks which are an important tool for minimising installation costs and reducing time for project completion.

The biofuels industry is an important one for Emerson given the predicted shortage of oil in the coming years. In fact, the International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2008 projects the world oil shortage will reach 28.6 million barrels a day by 2030.

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