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Georgia ethanol plant sold, at taxpayers' loss

• www.ajc.com
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.

The Range fiasco harkens other, failed renewable energy companies that received major taxpayer funding. California solar panel maker Solyndra got $535 million in federal loan guarantees. Beacon Power of Massachusetts, which makes energy-storage equipment, took in $43 million in federal money. Both filed for bankruptcy last year.

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.

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