Colorado biofuels center debuts

There’s no better way to look good these days than to associate yourself with alternative energy (and with good reason).

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That’s why a cluster of Colorado government and business leaders flocked to the state Capitol steps in Denver this morning. They were there to announce a new collaborative biofuels venture intended to make the state a more significant player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products.

The press conference was expected to draw a cluster of state and national — albeit mostly Democratic — political figures, including U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. The governor’s press office promised the event would showcase “great visuals” of renewable energy technologies the joint venture could help bring to the public, such as flex-fuel and biodiesel vehicles and materials — including shirts, plastic cups, cellulose paper — produced from biomass.

The new private-public venture is called the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (C2B2).

Unfortunately, the C2B2 acronym already is being used by Columbia University’s Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, as well as a U.K.-based Internet consulting firm.

Nonetheless, the project, which Chemical and Engineering News reports took nine months to organize, should provide increased funds for numerous Colorado-based academic and U.S. government researchers who are working to accelerate the development of biofuels and biorefining technology.

University of Colorado chemical and biological engineering professor Alan W. Weimer will serve as the venture’s executive director. CU academics will be joined by researchers from Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines and the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Founding private-sector partners include Chevron Technology Ventures, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Shell Global Solutions, which reportedly will pay $50,000 annually for royalty-free, nonexclusive rights to jointly developed intellectual property.

The project marks the second time in recent months that NREL and the three state universities have agreed to work together in developing renewable energy technology. In February, CU, CSU, the School of Mines and NREL agreed to create a “collaboratory” for cooperative renewable energy research in the state. The Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory is intended to help state research institutions compete for private and public research projects to increase the production and use of energy from renewable resources.

The new biofuels center project is welcome and well-intended, and the companies deserve credit for their participation. But don’t expect cheap Colorado-grown biofuels to solve our energy needs overnight. The Rocky Mountain Institute suggests that biofuels, along with with more efficient cars, are at best likely to displace 3.7 million barrels per day of crude oil— one-fifth of forecasted U.S. consumption — by 2025.

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