Cellulosic ethanol producer Range Fuels has heaped more than $50 million extra onto a $100 million round we reported two months ago, picking up the support of Passport Capital, Morgan Stanley Capital Group and others.

While the company originally planned to keep the round to $100 million, it appears to have received intense interest in its project. While the round was at first over-subscribed to $130 million, according to Ethanol Producer Magazine, Range has now taken a total of $158 million, according to a regulatory filing obtained by VentureBeat. The cap on the round is currently $166 million.

The additional funding should give Range the edge it needs to speed ahead in the race to open the world’s first full-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery in Soperton, Georgia, which broke ground last November. At 100 million gallons per year of capacity, the plant will be larger than many existing facilities that make ethanol from corn. Importantly, it has trees from the surrounding forests on-hand for use, rather than counting on next-generation feedstocks like switchgrass that have yet to be planted at scale.

Size is important for Range, because the thermo-chemical process the company uses works better at large scale. Yet even with its size advantage, a number of onlookers have speculated that the company may suffer from the pitfalls of being first to try out a complex process. Just breaking down woody fibers into a product isn’t good enough — Range’s ethanol must also be cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, albeit with the help of subsidies.

Its investors either don’t have the same expectation, or have been caught up in the drama of (maybe) leading a (possible) revolution.

Range’s competition for the distinction of being first is from two companies. One, Coskata, has a partnership with a plant construction company and plans for a 40 million gallon per year plant. The other, Mascoma, took on $50 million more in February and just today announced a partnership with General Motors, which also backs Coskata.

The round was led by Passport, with participation from a passel of others: PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, Khosla Ventures, Blue Mountain Venture Capital, Leaf Clean Energy, Pacific Capital Group, Morgan Stanley, and possibly some unlisted investors.


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