Beetle-killed trees turned to fuel

Beetle-killed pine is going into the gas tank. An innovative partnership is exploring ways to convert Colorado’s 2.3 million acres of beetle kill into a renewable fuel.

Cobalt Technologies, a California company, recently partnered with Colorado State University to produce a fuel made from beetle-affected lodgepole pine. The renewable gas and petrochemical produces emissions when burnt and could give rise to a new industry in Colorado.

“With this breakthrough, we’ve been able to turn a problem into an opportunity,” said Rick Wilson, chief executive officer of Cobalt Technologies. “Harvesting beetle-killed trees could produce low-carbon fuels and chemicals, establish a foundation for a sustainable biorefinery industry and create jobs, particularly in rural areas.”

Colorado’s vast swaths of beetle kill could help fuel the state for years.

“If we use only half of the 2.3 million acres currently affected in Colorado alone, we could produce over 2 billion gallons of biobutanol – enough to blend into all the gasoline used in Colorado for six years,” Wilson said.

Cobalt Technologies converts waste and mill residues into n-butanol, a versatile product that can be used as a drop-in biofuel to be blended with gasoline, diesel and ethanol. Once blended, it increases the fuel’s efficiency and reduces emissions. The biofuel can also be converted into jet fuel or plastics, or sold for use in paints, cleaners, adhesives and flavorings.

Mountain pine beetle has infested nearly half of Colorado’s 5 million acres of lodgepole and ponderosa pine forest. Millions of additional acres have been infested throughout the West, and the beetles have left a swath of brown, dead trees stretching from Canada to the Mexican border.

“Converting beetle-killed pine for biofuels is an extremely difficult process,” said Ken Reardon, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Colorado State University. “If Cobalt can convert beetle-killed wood, it’s likely that the company can make biofuel from almost any cellulosic feedstock.”

Cobalt Technologies has partnered with Colorado State University to perform engine testing with a gasoline-butanol blend. The test will be done at Colorado State University’s renowned Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory under the auspices of the University’s Sustainable Bioenergy Development Center.

DMR honored for green excellence

Durango Mountain Resort has received a big nod for environmental efforts in its recent Legends expansion project. This week, the resort received the 2010 Clif Bar Silver Eagle Award for Excellence in Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection by a ski resort, one of the ski industry’s highest environmental honors.

DMR’s expansion off Chair 8 was an effort not only to increase the resort’s total skiable acreage by 10 percent, but to improve forest health and habitat. Crews used only chain saws and hand tools to remove standing dead timber, hazard trees and non-merchantable timber 6 inches or less in diameter. The resort also used an environmentally friendly clearing technique, known as “lop-and-scatter,” which eliminated the need for heavy machinery and left the cut trees on the forest floor to create habitat for wildlife.

“Durango Mountain Resort is honored to be recognized by Clif Bar and the National Ski Areas Association for our ongoing efforts on behalf of the environment,” said DMR CEO Gary Derck. “The Legends expansion was a long-term, collaborative effort between the resort and the U.S. Forest Service that ultimately improved both our terrain offering for our guests and the overall health of the forest and its inhabitants.”

Established in 1993, the Golden and Silver Eagle Awards for Environmental Excellence recognize the environmental achievements of ski areas. The awards honor members of the NSAA, which represents the majority of ski area owners and operators in North America. The other finalists for the award were Mammoth Resort and Vail Resorts. Clif Bar is the administrator of the awards program.

Chimney Rock heads for monument

Additional protection could be coming to one of Southwest Colorado’s iconic sites. Legislation was introduced this week in both chambers of U.S. Congress to designate the Chimney Rock Archeological Area as a National Monument.

Located near Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock was first recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Last July, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recommended the elevation of Chimney Rock to a National Monument.

The legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. John Salazar and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet would  designate 4,726 acres surrounding Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as a National Monument, which would preserve, protect and restore its archeological, cultural, scientific, watershed and scenic resources. At that same time, Chimney Rock would remain a unit of the San Juan National Forest, and Native American tribes will retain access to the sites for traditional and cultural uses.  

“This will help preserve this cultural and archeological treasure of the Southwest and will increase heritage tourism throughout the region,” Salazar said.

Chimney Rock exhibits many of the features that earned Chaco Canyon a World Heritage listing, and the site is the most northeasterly and highest (7,600 feet) Chacoan site known. Every 18.6 years, the moon, as seen from the Great House Pueblo, rises between the rock spires during an event known as the Northern Lunar Standstill.

Sustainable Transit Expo set for May 12

Alternative transportation goes on parade next week in Durango. The first-ever Sustainable Transit Expo is set for May 12 in conjunction with a visit from the Green Riders electric bike tour across America.  

The electric bike tour’s goal is to raise awareness of the new transportation options becoming available across the United States. Such options can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and promote healthier lifestyles for people and the planet. During the Expo, many forms of sustainable and efficient transport options will be on display. Demo rides on eco-friendly bikes, scooters and motorcycles will also be available.

The event will run from 4-6 p.m. at the new Durango Transit Center and is sponsored by Sustainable Solar and Love Bug Motors in partnership with the City of Durango. Free food will be available compliments of Zia Taqueria and Homeslice Pizza. For more information, e-mail

– Will Sands