Cobalt turns beetle-killed pine into biobutanol

Posted April 7, 2010, at 11:16 a.m. CST

Cobalt Technologies announced April 7 a breakthrough in producing biobutanol from beetle-killed lodgepole pine feedstock. Cobalt is the first company to produce a drop-in replacement for petroleum and petrochemicals from beetle-affected lodgepole pine. To evaluate the fuel's viability for commercial vehicles, the company has signed a fuel testing partnership with Colorado State University.

"With this breakthrough, we've been able to turn a problem into an opportunity," said Rick Wilson, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. "Harvesting beetle-killed trees could produce low-carbon fuels and chemicals, establish a foundation for a sustainable biorefinery industry and create jobs, particularly in rural areas. If we use only half of the 2.3 million acres currently affected in Colorado alone, we could produce over 2 billion gallons of biobutanol--enough to blend into all the gasoline used in Colorado for six years."

Cobalt Technologies converts nonfood feedstock, such as forest waste and mill residues into n-butanol, a versatile product that can be used as a drop-in biofuel to be blended with gasoline, diesel and ethanol; converted into jet fuel or plastics, or sold as is for use in paints, cleaners adhesives and flavorings. The company's innovative technology offers the potential for converting beetle-killed pine into a low-carbon, sustainable biofuel and chemical.

Colorado's pine forests have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle, which has infested nearly half of the state's 5 million acres of pine forest. Additionally, millions of acres of lodgepole and ponderosa pines across the Western U.S. and Canada have been infested, with 40 million acres in British Columbia alone. From Canada to the Mexican border, the destructive path of the pine beetle has left brown, dead trees, which have little use, pose a significant fire hazard and threaten communities.

"Clearly, this is a significant achievement and a major step forward toward the production of cellulosic biofuels. Converting beetle-killed pine for biofuels is an extremely difficult process," said Ken Reardon, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Colorado State University. "If Cobalt can convert beetle-killed wood, it's likely that the company can make biofuel from almost any cellulosic feedstock."

Cobalt Technologies has partnered with Colorado State University to perform engine testing with a gasoline-butanol blend made with the biobutanol from beetle-killed wood. The fuel testing will be performed at Colorado State University's renowned Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory under the auspices of the University's Sustainable Bioenergy Development Center.

Cobalt is backed by leading investors in the cleantech sector, including Pinnacle Ventures, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Burrill and Company, Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund, Life Science Partners, @Ventures, and Harris & Harris. To learn more, please visit