Discovery boosts biofuels potential

Biofuels got a major scientific boost recently. Researchers have found a new pathway for increasing hydrogen production from algae. The news is especially significant locally as the firm Solix Biofuels has selected Durango for a new 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 at Solix yields 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.

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 10-acre site on tribal property and will be built in two phases. The first phase should be completed by the end of this summer and will consist of 4 acres of photo-bioreactors for growing algae, and 1 acre for a lab facility. Upon completion of the first phase, Solix plans to build an additional 5-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.

The alternative became even more attractive recently. Researchers studying a hydrogen-producing, single-celled green alga have unmasked a previously unknown fermentation pathway. That fermentation may open up possibilities for increasing hydrogen production. The research was conducted by the Carnegie Institutions Department of Plant Biology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Colorado School of Mines.

The teams created a mutant strain of algae in order to create elevated levels of hydrogen that could then be tapped for energy.

“We actually didn’t know that this particular pathway existed in the alga until we generated the mutant,” said Carnegie’s Arthur Grossman.

As an energy source to potentially replace fossil fuels, hydrogen would greatly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Proponents of algal-based hydrogen production point out that, unlike ethanol produced from crops, it would not compete with food production for agricultural land.


Animas, Grandview trails reopen

The Bureau of Land Management announced this week that the upper reaches of Animas Mountain and Grandview Ridge will reopen to the public this Fri., April 3. The areas are popular wintering grounds for deer and elk and were closed to people last fall to minimize disturbance.

As Southwest Colorado continues to grow, protecting winter wildlife habitat on lower elevation public lands such as these has become increasingly important, according to the San Juan Public Lands office.

Trail users are asked to stick to dry trails to avoid causing ruts and erosion. In addition, some deer and elk remain in the area, and those hiking with dogs are asked to stay on marked trails and keep pets on leash to minimize wildlife disturbance.

Local Lama honored internationally

Lama Tsultrim Allione, a 15-year resident of Pagosa Springs, former Tibetan Buddhist nun and founder of the local Tara Mandala Buddhist Retreat Center, has been named the Outstanding Woman in Buddhism for 2009.

Lama Tsultrim was honored at the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards Ceremony held in honor of the United Nations International Women’s Day. The ceremony was held in Don Muang, Bangkok, Thailand, on March 6. The Outstanding Women in Buddhism Awards are part of an international move

ment calling for change and celebrating the acts of courage and determination by women in the history of Buddhism.

Lama Tsultrim was ordained in Bodhgaya, India, in 1970 by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa, the second highest Lama in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. At the age of 22, she became the first American to be ordained in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Originally Joan Rousmaniere Ewing, daughter of a newspaper publisher from New Hampshire, Lama Tsultrim has devoted her life to bridging East and West.

After four years in the Himalayas studying Buddhism and the Tibetan language, she returned her vows and since then,  has continued her path as a lay person in the West. She is author of two books:Women of Wisdom, a biography of Tibetan women teachers andFeeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict, a Western adaptation of the 11th century Tibetan yogini Machig Labdrön’s teachings.

In 1993, she and her husband, David Petit, founded Tara Mandala, a 700-acre retreat center in Pagosa Springs.


Access to Wilson Peak reinstated

Access has opened wider to hikers and climbers eyeing the summit of Wilson Peak, one of a trio of 14,000-foot peaks southwest of Telluride.

The conventional, and easiest, trail to the peak was closed in 2003 because property near the trailhead – and at key places along the way – was private. In closing access, the owner cited concerns about vandalism and liability. The property in question was made up of patented mining claims.

In 2006, the owner restored access to those willing to pay $100 and sign a liability waiver. And, in 2007, the Trust for Public Land paid the landowner $3.25 million to buy 230 acres in an access area called Silver Pick Basin.

The Telluride Watch reported that the final resolution was expected last week. A new trail will be constructed to avoid the last of the private land and connect with the conventional route up the mountain.


Molas Pass paving commended

Durango was honored for an unusual “Best of” award recently. Four Corners Materials and the Colorado Department of Transportation were given the “Smoothest Pavement Resurfacing Award” for their paving work on U.S. 550 between Coal Bank and Molas Pass.

This project included the placement of 21,000 tons of hot mix asphalt to improve washboard conditions and pot holes. Steep grade changes through the passes, some exceeding seven percent, presented challenges and necessitated constant modifications.

“We congratulate all of our award winners for a job well done,” stated Craig Lamberty, of the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association. “The competition was fierce and each award recipient was truly the best of the best.”

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows