Energy & Sustainability See Inside The False Promise of Biofuels The breakthroughs needed to replace oil with plant-based fuels are proving difficult to achieve By David Biello Photograph by Levi Brown Range fuels was a risky but tantalizing bet. The high-tech start-up, begun by former Apple executive Mitch Mandich, attracted millions of dollars in private money plus commitments for up to $156 million in grants and loans from the U.S. government. The plan was to build a large biofuels plant in Soperton, Ga. Each day the facility would convert 1,000 tons of wood chips and waste from Georgia’s vast pulp and paper industry into 274,000 gallons of ethanol. “We selected Range Fuels as one of our partners in this effort,” said Samuel Bodman, then secretary of energy, at the groundbreaking ceremony in November 2007, “because we really believe that they are the cream of the crop.” That crop has spoiled in the ground. Earlier this year Range Fuels closed its newly built biorefinery without selling a drop of ethanol. Turning biomass into a commercially viable, combustible liquid is tougher than anticipated, the company has found. As expensive equipment sits idle, the firm is searching for more funding to try to solve the problem. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2013 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.