Note to Editors: More background on the Solix technology, video clips, downloadable, broadcast-quality audio clips and downloadable, print-quality photographs will be available at http://welcome.colostate.edu by noon on Thursday, Dec. 7.
Solix Biofuels Inc., a startup company based in Boulder, is working with Colorado State University engineers 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.
Solix officials plan to commercialize the technology over the next two years. After ramping up to widespread production, the company expects to eventually compete commercially with the wholesale price of crude petroleum.
"We’re facing two global challenges: depletion of our petroleum reserves and a buildup of greenhouse gases," said Bryan Willson, director of Colorado State’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, which is helping Colorado State achieve its goal to lead the nation in developing and commercializing environmentally sustainable solutions to global problems. "This process harnesses photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide and energy captured from the sun into an economical petroleum substitute."
"Algae 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," said Solix founder Jim Sears.
Solix officials estimate that widespread construction of its photo-bioreactor system could meet the demand for the U.S. consumption of diesel fuel – about 4 million barrels a day – by growing algae on less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. land area, which is otherwise unused land adjacent to power plants and ethanol plants. The plants produce excess carbon dioxide, which is necessary to turn algae into oil. In addition to producing biodiesel, the process would prevent a large portion of the greenhouse gases produced by coal-burning power plants from being expelled directly into the atmosphere.
"Algae to biofuel technologies are still being developed, yet a strong case can be made for global domestication of algae as an energy crop," said Doug Henston, chief executive officer of Solix. "We want to manage this technology to create a business that will serve current and future energy stakeholders."
Colorado State and Solix officials are collaborating with New Belgium Brewing Co. to use excess carbon dioxide from the brewery’s plant to test the algae-based biodiesel process.
Solix is one of many companies doing business in northern Colorado because of its leadership in attracting clean and renewable energy companies and technology.
This spring, Colorado State and Solix participated in the creation of the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, a clearinghouse that connects entrepreneurs and major power users with researchers and government officials, encouraging innovation, new job creation and investment in the region. The Clean Energy Cluster has already produced several technology transfer opportunities including a new collaboration between Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory in the College of Engineering and Spirae Inc., a privately held company based in Fort Collins.
A majority of Colorado State’s eight colleges host faculty who are researching clean and renewable energy alternatives including Willson, who is a mechanical engineering professor in the College of Engineering. Also reinforcing the major role of Colorado State in the clean-energy arena is the recent formation of the Clean Energy Collaboratory between the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado State, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado.
"Commercialization partners such as Solix are critical to the successful transfer of laboratory innovations to the marketplace, and with the tremendous entrepreneurial interest in the Northern Colorado region, we expect to see Colorado State participating in many more startups," said Mark Wdowik, vice president for Technology Transfer at Colorado State University Research Foundation – a private, non-profit foundation that aids the university in its research and educational efforts including the responsibility to protect and manage the intellectual property resulting from that research.
"We have already seen evidence of earlier commercialization successes from the engines lab, including Envirofit, a not-for-profit corporation created to commercialize reduced emissions technologies created by Dr. Willson and his colleagues, and we expect more to come," Wdowik said.
The Solix collaboration is one example of Colorado State’s emphasis, as stated in the university’s Strategic Plan, to develop closer ties to the community and foster economic development via expeditious technology transfer and commercialization.