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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Friday, January 06, 2012

Another Green Energy Sinkhole

Timothy Birdnow

Georgia ethanol plant soaks the taxpayers, is sold at loss.

From the AJC piece:

"The failed Range Fuels wood-to-ethanol factory in southeastern Georgia that sucked up $65 million in federal and state tax dollars was sold Tuesday for pennies on the dollar to another bio-fuel maker with equally grand plans to transform the alternative energy world.

LanzaTech, a New Zealand-based biofuel company, paid $5.1 million for the plant in Soperton. Its main financial backer: Vinod Khosla, a California entrepreneur who also bankrolled Range Fuels, and helped secure its government loans, before Range went bust last year.

LanzaTech hasn't received the same type of loans, but the company has received $7 million from the U.S. departments of Energy and Transportation to assist in the development of alternative fuels."

End excerpt.

So much for ending our dependence on foreign energy sources; this waste of time effort ended up being owned by an admittedly friendly nation, but still a foreign one.

Why are they trying to turn wood to ethanol in the first place? Methanol - wood alcohol - is the natural biproduct of fermentation of wood. Granted, it is a little less energetic than ethanol and produces formmaldehyde, but it takes a fraction of the effort to produce than does ethanol. Even better, turn it into producer gas aka wood gas. But natural gas is cheap and plentiful, and so it wouldn't be worth anyone's trouble.

That is the ultimate problem with renewables; they aren't worth anyone's trouble. Yes you CAN make them work, but never easily or conveniently or with enough power to satisfy the modern need. It's rather like ballooning; theoretically it's possible to build an entire civilization's air travel on them, but they just aren't worth it when air planes are around. Or take the Stanley Steamer; it worked beautifully, but just wasn't as useful as the intenal combusion engine.

"If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door". We are trying to replace rat poison and modern traps with fancy versions of buckets of water and tipping boards. No matter how you gussy this stuff up, it's still failed technology, failed for a reason. Yes it works, but not as well as what actually caught on.

And the majority of the time when you add steps to a process you reduce it's efficiency and value. That is why oil is king; for a limited amount of processing you can get a maximum of energy returned. The energy was put there by the Sun and by geothermal processes, and biological ones. We just have to format oil into a useful shape for us. "Green" technology all attempts to unlock energy that requires considerable processing. Even solar energy, because the actual form of the energy comes to us either through chemical processes (in solar cells) or mechanical ones (through the use of Stirling solar engines or whatnot) and not directly. Oil comes through our old friend fire. Ethanol requires that we grow our energy from the ground up, and then process it; with oil it was already grown and partially processed. Coal too.

The article continues:

"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 to use the machinery.

Sam Shelton, director of research programs at Georgia Tech's Strategic Energy Institute, was long skeptical of Range Fuels' plans and technology.

"It was too damn big a risk for an apparently unproven technology and the due diligence I personally performed on Range would not entice me to invest in it," Shelton said Wednesday. Shelton was invited by Range a few years back to check out its operation in Colorado where it was based.

"Government should not be in the venture capital business selecting technologies," he added.

Range was the alternative energy rage in 2007 when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue held a press conference to announce dot-com billionaire Khosla would help finance the $225 million wood-to-ethanol plant in economically depressed Treutlen County, 155 miles southeast of Atlanta.


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."

End excerpt.

Pardon me, but how did Range cost the U.S. $64 million when the Bush Administration gave it a grant, not a loan, of $76 million dollars, plus a loan guarantee of another $80 million bucks?

Mr. Shelton is right; government has no business doing this.

One wonders if our government doesn't realize that this is indeed folly, a waste of money and time. People are getting rich off this "green" tech, and by people I mean politically connected people. And don't forget, high energy prices mean a public under the thumb of government. A lot of power can be justified for that reason.

One thing that is absolutely certain is that government choosing what industries should prosper is not Capitalism in any form. It's the economic system of Fascism. "First Brown then Red" was the battle cry of Communists in Italy and Germany prior to WWII, and for a reason; they understood that a command economy was the first step toward socialism, which inevitably led to communism. Governments love socialism; it empowers faceless bureaucrats.

Government subsidies of alternative fuels empowers as well. And it cheats the public.

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