Solix now shipping local biofuels

 The Durango region is growing onto the cutting edge of biofuels production. An alternative energy firm is now shipping algae-based biofuel grown at its new plant, the Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility, on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

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 and the Coyote Gulch facility 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 La Plata County in part because of its climate, which is optimal for algae production. The company also came to Southwest Colorado thanks to a partnership with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The biofuels plant is located on a 10-acre site on tribal property.

“As the world moves to replace fossil fuels ... we see algae as a highly attractive alternative to agricultural crop feedstocks,” said Doug Henston, CEO of Solix.

Algal oil production began at the local plant last July following the inoculation of the facility with microalgae. The Coyote Gulch plant is now producing the equivalent of 3,000 gallons of algal oil per acre at peak production. 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, and consumes wastewater generated during coal-bed methane production. In addition, Solix captures CO2 produced by the plant in order to feed the algae.

Solix’s long-term plans involve production and sale of algal oil to companies that can refine it into biofuel. Solix is currently exploring those kinds of partnerships.

“We’re not looking to be British Petroleum or Exxon,” Henston recently told the Cleantech Group, a company supporting clean technologies. We think that’s foolish. We want to partner with them. We’re not looking to compete, we’re looking to enable.” 


Durango ‘Green Power Community’

Durango has earned green laurels for its collective commitment to purchase renewable energy. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ranked Durango as the #12 Green Power Community in the United States and the only Green Power Community in Colorado.

EPA Green Power Communities are municipalities in which the local government, businesses and residents voluntarily purchase Green Power, or electricity generated from renewable resources, like solar, wind, biomass or small hydro, in amounts that meet or exceed EPA’s Green Power Community requirements.

In 2009, Durango residents and businesses purchased in excess of 12.7 million kilowatt hours of Green Power from La Plata Electric Association. This accounted for 7.3 percent of all electricity consumed within the city, more than qualifiying Durango. The EPA standard for communities the size of Durango is 3 percent. In addition, Durango’s cumulative Green Power purchase offset carbon dioxide emissions of about 9,362 metric tons, equivalent to annual emissions from 1,790 passenger vehicles.

“This recognition shows that Durango is among a short list of communities from across the country that has made a significant contribution to minimize its impact on the environment,” said Greg Caton, Durango assistant city manager.

Caton noted that while the City of Durango continues to purchase Green Power for the library, transit center, and water and wastewater treatment plants, the commitment of individuals and businesses throughout Durango is what made the difference.

LPEA offers Green Power for a monthly premium of 80 cents per 100 kWh block. The electric cooperative buys Green Power, which from wind, from provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

“This recognition is well deserved for the Durango community,” said Mark Schwantes, LPEA manager of corporate services. “This is the perfect complement to the ongoing Climate Energy Action Plan and demonstrates the commitment of residents to offset their electric usage with clean, renewable, wind power.”

Schwantes attributed LPEA’s successful Green Power program to early leadership from the City of Durango as well as local environmental organizations who urged LPEA and Tri-State to adopt ambitious goals for renewable energy.

“But most importantly, our board and management’s support for the effort and our members voluntary purchase of Green Power has made all the difference,” he said.

The top Green Power communities are Corvallis, Ore.; Bellingham, Wash.; Santa Clara, Calif.; Palo Alto, Calif.; and Beaverton, Ore.


Tad Elliott skis to silver in Anchorage

A Durango skier skated onto the podium this week. Tad Elliott finished second at the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships on Monday in Anchorage, Alaska. The local skier covered the 15-kilometer freestyle course in 37 minutes, 42.1 seconds, just 25 seconds behind Kris Freeman of Andover, N.H.

More than 400 skiers, including likely 2010 Olympic competitors, top collegians and the nation’s best juniors, are taking part in the Jan. 3-8 races. Racing began with classic sprints followed by distance racing, including the Jan. 5 freestyle race.

Elliott’s finish shocked the entire field, including himself. He started in the B wave, a second flight of supposedly slower skiers, and his previous best in the 15K freestyle was ninth. “Ultimately, I was dreaming of a top 10, and when I looked on the board I was just beside myself,” he told theFairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Though he has been skiing in Durango since he could walk, the 21-year-old might be best known in Durango as a bike racer. During the summer, he races professionally on the USA Cycling U23 Team.

Nordic racing continues in Anchorage through Friday with classic racing Jan. 7 and team sprints Jan. 8.

City of Durango solicits ‘Art on Loan’

The City of Durango is seeking to expand its inventory of public art, albeit on a temporary basis. The Public Art Commission is inviting artists from any geographic location to submit applications to the “Art on Loan” program. Five artists will be chosen to display their works in public locations within Durango for one year and receive a $500 honorarium.  

The commission has pre-selected locations along the Animas River Trail and in front of the Carnegie building (the old Durango Public Library). The selected artwork will be installed in early May, as weather permits, and will remain on display for one year.

Applications are due no later than Feb. 1. Details and application forms are available at:

– Will Sands




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