Biofuels firm holds promise of regional jobs

Remember when Christopher Lloyd in the “Back to the Future” movies used garbage to fuel the time circuits in his flying DeLorean?

Well, a company that is moving to Colorado can do just that.

No, the company, Cool Planet Energy Systems, isn’t building Mr. Fusion devices to mount on cars so we could travel through time, but it does plan to build portable refineries that would convert non-food biomass into a high-octane gasoline that any car could burn.

“By selecting Colorado as the location for our global headquarters and with plans to locate our first manufacturing facility here, we’re moving closer to commercializing our revolutionary carbon negative fuel technology,” said Howard Janzen, chief executive officer of the company that has developed a technique to convert non-food biomass into a high-octane gasoline, jet fuel or diesel.

The company, which Gov. John Hickenlooper’s economic development office helped lure to the state, plans to move its corporate headquarters to Greenwood Village, one of the southern suburbs in the Denver metropolitan area.

By the end of next year, however, Cool Planet plans to open several conversion plants around the state, several of which are likely to be located on the Western Slope.

Together, the company expects to create several hundred jobs over the next three years, said Mike Rocke, the company’s vice president for business development.

Rocke said the firm has identified two major sources of biomass it will target: corncobs and trees killed by pine and spruce beetles.

“We take agricultural waste, like beetle kill or corncobs,” he said. “We don’t use any food of any type, but we can use energy crops like miscanthus (a hybrid grass) as material to make the gasoline. And we need engineers and technicians to run these refinery plants.”

He said the company plans to build modular refineries,which can be moved to where the fuel it will convert is located, such as areas of the forests devastated with dead pine-beetle trees. The facilities, which would take about six weeks to disassemble and transport to a new site to be reassembled, would stay in place as long as there’s enough biomass within a 30- to 50-mile radius.

Rocke said the company also plans to grow its own energy crops to help augment the temporary refineries, as well as gather agricultural waste from nearby farmers.

The converted fuel would then be transported to Denver refineries, where it is expected to be mixed with normal gasoline, much like ethanol is used today.

“We source material from like a 30-mile radius, and then if we need to, if there’s enough material, we’ll put another one of these mini-refineries in, say 50 miles down the road,” he said. “You want to draw 30-mile circles, and if there’s enough feed stock to keep these things going, we just put more of them in.”

As a result, the company doesn’t know if it would install a handful of them, or dozens around the state.

Rocke said it costs the company about $1.50 a gallon to make the gasoline.

Cool Planet has some major backing, too, from such companies as General Electric and ConocoPhillips. It’s also about a third of the way in raising about $100 million from investors to build its production facilities.

Hickenlooper helped lure the company to Colorado with the aid of tax incentives approved by the Colorado Legislature. Under the Colorado Job Growth Incentive Tax Credit, the company qualifies for more than $3 million. That’s based on the nearly 400 new jobs it expects to create over the next three years.


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