Biofuels plant taps Durango

Renewable energy is stepping into the local region in a big way. An alternative energy firm has selected Durango as the location for its new biofuels plant.  

Solix Biofuels is a Fort Collins-based firm focused on algae-based biofuel. A Colorado State University spin-off, Solix started by sponsoring research to identify algae species that produce high fuel yields. Currently, algae grown in photo-bioreactors at Solix headquarters yield more than five times the amount of fuel per acre than other agriculture-based biofuels. Solix engineers have also created systems that automatically adjust for environmental changes such as sunlight and temperature to optimize growing conditions.

Solix selected Durango in part because of its climate, which is optimal for algae production. The company is also coming to Southwest Colorado thanks to a partnership with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The biofuels plant will be located on a ten-acre site on tribal property and will be built in two phases. The first phase should be completed in 12 to 18 months and will consist of four acres of photo-bioreactors for growing algae, and one acre for a lab facility. Upon completion of the first phase, Solix will build an additional five-acre expansion that will allow the pilot facility to produce at commercial scale.

“As the world moves to replace fossil fuels with the clean, renewable energy of the future, we see algae as a highly attractive alternative to agricultural crop feedstocks,” said Doug Henston, CEO of Solix. “We secured this investment with energy industry innovators who see the potential for algae to transform our energy economy. Our partners understand Solix Biofuels’ technologies and the potential for large-scale commercialization.”

The energy industry innovators Henston mentioned include a variety of investors. Among them are Valero Energy Corp., the largest U.S. oil refinery operator; Infield Capital, an investment fund focused on emerging “clean tech” companies; and Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC, the company managing the tribe’s alternative energy investments.

“We believe algae has great promise as a source of efficient, cost-effective commercial-scale biofuels production, but not all algae companies are created equal,” said Rebecca Kauffman, Southern Ute Alternative Energy CEO. “We were impressed with the engineering and systems approach taken by Solix and look forward to working with their talented team to help bring these technologies to the marketplace.”

More than $15 million has already been committed to the project with the goal of cost-effective production and commercial distribution of the biofuel. Not only does algae hold some of the greatest promise for biofuel, it offers a significant side-benefit. Algae cultivation consumes substantial quantities of carbon dioxide, helping to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Companies and agencies have been working on developing a viable algae-based biofuel since 1978. Solix was founded in 2006 to continue this effort and solve climate change and petroleum scarcity issues, without competing with global food supply.


Forest Service honors local partners

The Forest Service smiled on two of its Durango partners last week. Trails 2000 and Ken Francis, of the Fort Lewis Office of Office of Community Services, were honored for their contributions to public lands management in southwest Colorado.

Trails 2000 received the Honor Award for Recreation Partner of the Year from the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester. The non-profit volunteer organization has worked for two decades to help engage the public in the planning of trail proposals on federal lands in southwestern Colorado. Since 1990, the group has provided up to 3,000 hours of volunteer work each year for trail maintenance and public involvement.

“This award recognizes all of the work our volunteers have contributed to our trails for the past 20 years and the importance of volunteer work on public lands,” said Mary Monroe, Trails 2000 executive director. “We are honored to receive such a prestigious award on behalf of our volunteers.”

Francis received the Honor Award for Regional Partner of the Year from the regional forester. Working with a coalition, his efforts helped raise $4.39 million of funding for preservation efforts on the San Juan Skyway from Great Outdoors Colorado in its latest round of land conservation grants. This grant builds on earlier successes, including acquisition of $5.7 million for the Skyway from GOCO in 2004 and $14.1 million of Land and Water Conservation Funds for the Red Mountain Project.

“It is an honor to have received this award,” Francis said, “but it must be shared with the many excellent partners who were essential to these team efforts.”


Youths help carry the 2008 election

In the wake of last week’s historic voter turn-out, La Plata County election officials are commending an unusual segment of the population – those not yet old enough to vote. Local youth made “tangible contributions” to the success of the Nov. 4 election at polling places around the county.

Kaye Luebchow, an election judge at the old Bayfield Middle School, praised the volunteer help from students. “What made all the difference was the help from the Bayfield High School students,” she said. “They helped in so many ways by setting up and taking down equipment, assisting the elderly, and doing whatever needed to be done.”  

Local youth made similar notable contributions at other polling locations throughout the county. “More than 50 students from Bayfield High School and Durango High School worked at 15 different polling locations, and the feedback we received from every location was that the students were great contributors,” explained Donna Elder, La Plata County Elections Administrator. “We also had several Fort Lewis College students serve as election judges for us this year as well, and we hope to continue this trend of youth involvement in future elections.”


‘Over the River’ review under way

Renowned artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude are continuing to wade through red tape en-route to their “Over the River” project. The temporary, site-specific artwork would include 6 miles of translucent fabric panels intermittently suspended above a 40-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City. But before it is installed, Over the River must survive the public process.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently accepting public comment on the art work. The agency has issued a “Notice of Realty Action” and is conducting a land use review of the project. Following that process, the BLM will complete an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether, when and under what conditions the agency would issue a permit for the project.

“The public’s input on this proposal is important in our decision making process,” said Roy Masinton, Field Manager for the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office. “We are looking for any new information the public may offer about the availability of the lands this project proposes to use.”

Comments may be submitted in writing prior to Dec. 15, and must be mailed to: Field Manager, Royal Gorge Field Office - Bureau of Land Management, 3028 East Main Street, Cañon City, Colorado  81212.

– Will Sands