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Hamilton Council hears about high alcohol fuel


By Michael Howell

State Representative and candidate for the Senate Pat Connell told the Hamilton City Council last week that oil, natural gas and coal are only a part of the state’s and the nation’s energy portfolio and he wanted them to know about another important alternative besides the solar and wind options. It is an option being pushed by a local company called Bioroot Energy and involves making a high alcohol fuel out of almost anything made up of organic compounds. That includes trees, limbs, leaves, pinecones, garbage, tires, sewer sludge, hazardous waste, medical waste, methane, coal and even carbon dioxide. In fact, anything that is made up of organic compounds can be used.

Connell told the Council that while working for Rocky Mountain Log Homes as their resource specialist he tried to develop a co-generation plant to produce electricity using waste material from the operations but found it impossible to do from an economic standpoint.

“The solution was just not there,” he said. “But the solution presented by Bioroot Energy is fascinating and unique. I survived organic chemistry in college, these guys live it.” He introduced Jay Toups, CEO of Bioroot Energy, saying that the county would benefit from the company’s development regardless of where the facilities are actually built. He also said that the company was not looking for any money from the City of Hamilton. Although Toups said the same thing, his presentation sounded a lot like an investment pitch and they are, of course, looking for investors, not from the city perhaps, but from “the same people who will be standing in line to use the new fuel.”

Toups said that his initial interest in energy production began in response to the cataclysmic wildfires that he witnessed after moving to the valley in 1998. He saw a lot of energy in terms of BTUs going to waste as the forests burned and began looking into the possibility of converting bug-killed trees into usable energy. What he eventually arrived at, working with a few scientists, is a system of “gasification” that can, at very high temperatures, break down organic compounds without a smokestack and precipitate a variety of alcohols that can all be used as fuel. Toups said the company had four U.S. proprietary patents on the process and pending patents in the European Union and in India.

The result of the process is a higher mixed alcohol fuel (a synthetic blend of 8 to 10 linear, (n) normal alcohols) containing about 60% more BTUs per unit volume than C1 methanol, and nearly 20% more BTUs than ethanol. It can be used in any gas or diesel engine as blendstock or as a total petroleum substitute in flex-fuel vehicles.

“This fuel will compete against gasoline and diesel in price, performance and emissions,” he said.

Toups said one key to the operation was the use of a “gasifier” rather than an “incinerator” to break down the organic compounds. “It’s like a stove without a smokestack,” he said. The gasifier they are using in their prototype was used for three years, “gasifying” oil soaked earth at a contaminated site. He said the closed system burns so hot that all carbon based compounds, such as the contaminating oil, could be destroyed and the only emissions were a glass type slag that is totally inert and contains no toxins.

“We won’t say it has zero emissions,” said Toups. “When you open it up you will have some emissions.” But on the whole he touts the process as a safe and non-polluting way to eliminate waste, even hazardous and toxic waste. Even though the idea was born out of a sense of urgency to use waste produced in forest management the new business will not lead to a run on the forest, according to Toups, because the type of feed stock for the process is so huge. He sees it being primarily a good tool for municipalities to get rid of unwanted waste like sewer sludge and garbage.

Toups said some small production has been ongoing but that this was being ramped up with a $1.5 million demonstration project in the works. They are eyeing the former Smurfit Stone site at Frenchtown as a good place to start the project. He said a phase II development is also being planned that would significantly ramp up production. That phase could cost up to $35 million to complete. He said the biodegradable fuel, once produced, can be piped along with oil and separated at the destination site.

Toups emphasized that he was not soliciting investments from the City, but his idea was to “share the money making aspect of the operations with the same people standing in line to use it.”

In its regular business, the Hamilton City Council approved hiring Mathew Morris as Probationary Police Officer despite the fact that the salary for the position was inadvertently left out of this year’s budget. A budget amendment to add the position’s salary to the budget was placed on the next council agenda. Morris will start his job on September 23.

The council also hired Stevantae Lacefield as Municipal Code Enforcement Officer. The position is actually a civilian position, not a sworn officer position. The City received 22 applications and interviewed six of them before selecting Lacefield.

The council authorized the cancellation of a number of outstanding checks that were issued but never cashed. Councilor Ken Bell voted against the proposal because he felt the process was confused and did not eliminate the possibility that the checks would have to be re-issued if someone sought payment. He was also bothered by the fact that any vendor who did want to recover their payment would have to go to the state. He was very critical of the state’s process.

The council approved a contract amendment with Morrison Maierle for the 3rd Street Water Main Replacement Project adding $38,413 to the engineering costs. Councilor Bell voted against this motion because he felt the explanation of the added costs was insufficiently explained.

The council passed a resolution authorizing the sale or disposal of property that has no further use and re-scheduled its next meeting for on Wednesday, November 5 to avoid a conflict with the elections on November 4.

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