Colo. The union of traditional long-term planning and a contemporary
race to the future joined July 29 with the dedication of a biofuels
plant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
Ute tribal lands are flanked on the east by Chimney Rock, a centuries-old
ceremonial site, and on the west by the famed cliff dwellings of
Mesa Verde National Park.
between the ancient landmarks, a water tower signals the site where
algae-inhabited water basins are ready to take their place in the
21st century as progenitors of what may become plentiful, affordable
Coyote Gulch Biofuels Pilot Plant is a partnership venture of the
increasingly prosperous Southern Ute Tribe and nascent Solix Biofuels,
an alternative energy technology partner and startup company of
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.
goal is to "commercialize technology that can cheaply mass-produce
oil derived from algae and turn it into biodiesel an environmentally
friendly solution to high gas prices, greenhouse gas emissions,
and volatile global energy markets," according to CSU.
process involves the use of closed photobioreactors for low-cost
production, with algae contained in plastic panels suspended in
shallow water vertically to provide an extended surface area for
greater efficiency. Tubes deliver carbon dioxide as a carbon source
and the algae create oil biocrude through photosynthesis.
are the fastest-growing organisms on the planet, and can produce
100 times more oil per acre than conventional soil-tilled crops
that are now being grown for biofuel use," according to a CSU.
believe algae has great promise as a source of efficient, cost-effective
commercial-scale biofuels production, but not all algae companies
are created equal," Rebecca Kauffman, president and CEO of Southern
Ute Alternative Energy, said.
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."
construction of photobioreactors may meet the U.S. consumption of
diesel fuel at minimum, an estimated four million barrels
per day by growing algae on less than half of a percent of
the nation's land area, including tracts adjacent to power and ethanol
grown in Solix photobioreactors yielded more than five times the
amount of fuel per acre of land per year than agriculture-based
fuels, including ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy and canola
at present commercial yields, CSU said.
engineers have created systems that automatically adjust for environmental
changes such as sunlight and temperature to optimize growing conditions."
could be another benefit, as well. Kaufman said the biofuels facility,
located next to an existing natural gas processing plant, "could
help to mitigate to some extent" the possible global warming effects
of coal-bed methane gas, of which carbon dioxide is a byproduct.
Southern Ute Reservation, as is the case with Crow and Navajo nations
and other Indian lands, has potentially large greenhouse-gas producing
methane gas is in high demand, and the Southern Ute tribal lands
sit atop significant coal-bed methane reserves.
Gulch Biofuels Pilot Plant is a project of the Southern Ute Growth
Fund's Alternative Energy program, the tribe's newest enterprise,
which manages Southern Ute investments in alternative and renewable
objective is to "focus on opportunities in areas that will produce
positive environmental impacts and that have sound technologies
and solid economics," according to the tribe. "Alternative Energy
is currently involved with ventures in wind energy, electrical transmission
funding of about $10.5 million was led by I2BF Venture Capital,
a London-based venture capital firm focused on biofuels, and Bohemian
Investments, a private investment company based in Fort Collins.
were Southern Ute Alternative Energy, Valero Energy Corp., the largest
U.S. oil refinery operator, based in San Antonio, Texas, and Infield
Capital, an investment fund focused on emerging clean technology
companies, based in Boulder, Colo. The funding supported Solix'
development of technology including its closed photobioreactor system.
Further funding provided construction for the pilot plant.
Gov. Bill Ritter said the project was "innovative and forward-thinking"
and is "great news for southwest Colorado, demonstrating that the
New Energy Economy is benefiting communities all across the state.'