Fort Collins company sells biofuels made from beetle kill

Laren Cyphers

Biofuels made by Fort Collins-based company, Red Rocks Biofuels, will help to fuel Southwest Airlines’ planes beginning mid-2016 using the extensive forest waste created by pine beetle kill.

The off-take agreement between the companies is over three million gallons of biofuel a year at an undisclosed price which will be mixed with standard jet fuel creating about six million gallons of combined jet fuel. These biofuels will make up less than one percent of Southwest’s 1.9 billion gallons of jet fuel used per year.

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“You have to make sure that the airline that you are using is a credit worth counterparty,” said Terry Kulesa, CEO of Red Rock Biofuels. “That being said, Southwest is the highest rated airline from a financial stability standpoint.”

Southwest had been approached by other biofuel firms before, but has so far only contracted Red Rocks, according to Tom McCartin, senior director of fuel management at Southwest.

“They’re the only [firm] that’s come to us yet that’s offered us the combination of cost benefit and bio,” McCartin said.

Southwest also appreciated the biomass used by Red Rocks in the production of their biofuels: forest waste, which includes waste created from the extensive pine beetle kill Colorado has been experiencing in recent years.

Biofuels are a significantly cleaner source of energy, according to Dr. Kenneth Reardon, Colorado State University professor in chemical and biological engineering and the director of the University’s Sustainable Bioenergy Development Center.

“When you make a biofuel, you’re making it from a plant material that grew by taking carbon dioxide from the air, and so, the carbon impacts of burning a biofuel is much, much less than it is for a fossil fuel, and that includes natural gas,” Reardon said.

Airlines and the military are especially interested in biofuels because of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but also because they can be made domestically.

“There was a time not that long ago that the government was worried that so much more product was coming from outside the U.S. – meaning gas, diesel, jet, crude – that it was a security risk for the country,” McCartin said.

Red Rocks uses western United State’s forests as the feedstock for their biofuels but will be constructing their first production site in southern Oregon. The fuel will then be shipped to northern California where the demand is high.

CSU is well-known in the biofuel industry, having contact with Red Rocks and researching ways to make the fuel more efficient and cost effective, according to Reardon.

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“Because of our strengths in agriculture and engineering, we have all the right people to do this kind of work,” Reardon said.

CSU hopes to work with Red Rocks Biofuels in the future, according to Reardon.

Collegian Green Beat Reporter Laren Cyphers can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Larenwritesgood.