4 minutes with…Wes Bolsen, Cool Planet, Strategic Partnerships

BolsenTell us about your organization and it’s role in the advanced bioeconomy.

Cool Planet produces high-octane, aromatic fuel blendstocks for gasoline, jet, and diesel, as well as CoolTerra enhanced biochar for use in agriculture and water applications. The technology has the capability of producing carbon negative fuel from the company’s distributed plant model that places the facilities near the biomass feedstock.

Tell us about your role and what you are focused on in the next 12 months.

My role focuses on business development, marketing, government affairs, and project financing. The primary focus at Cool Planet throughout 2015 is getting our commercial facility in Alexandria, Louisiana built and operating. In parallel, we will continue to build long term strategic partnerships to deploy the Cool Planet technology both within and outside the United States.

What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?

Commercial biofuel facilities that can be economically sustainable regardless of government policy will need to be up and running to start a period of rapid growth and expansion.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the advanced bioeconomy, what would you change?

I would put the teeth back in RFS2, that actually had renewable fuel mandates with penalties, or converting RFS2 into a national LCFS program.

Of all the reasons that influenced you to join the advanced bioeconomy industry, what single reason stands out for you as still being compelling and important to you?

The ability to bring economic growth to farming communities, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce green house gasses, create jobs in rural America, and increase our national security.

Where are you from? 

Lovington, Illinois. 5 generations of my family have farmed and ranched in Central, Illinois. Grew up raising black angus cattle, quarter horses and corn and soybeans.

What was your undergraduate major in college, and where did you attend? Why did you choose that school and that pathway? 

I went to Rose Hulman in Terre Haute, IN to major in Electrical Engineering. Coming from a high school class of 27 students in Lovington, Illinois, I excelled in math and science and engineering was a natural extension of this. I figured out mid way through Rose that I wanted to be more of an entrepreneur, and set plans for business school.

Who do you consider your mentors. What have you learned from them?

George Bruce – Wichita, KS
My current management colleagues at Cool Planet
Steve Stenstrom – Pro Athletes Outreach
I have learned from all of these people the importance of balance, margin, and focus in my life. To love God first, and others as much as myself.

What’s the biggest lesson you ever learned during a period of adversity?

Taking a step back and giving myself time to think is better than pressing forward into a brick wall.

What hobbies do you pursue, away from your work in the industry? 

Cooking and travelling to new places

What 3 books would you take to read, if stranded on a desert island?

Bible
Picture book of family
How to get off an island for dummies

What books or articles are on your reading list right now, or you just completed and really enjoyed?

Thinking fast and slow – Khaneman

What’s your favorite city or place to visit, for a holiday?

The south island of New Zealand

The cool of CoolTerra

coolTerra_on_truck4closeNews from California arrived this month that Cool Planet Energy Systems, a technology company that develops sustainable solutions for energy, food and water, has unveiled its first commercial-scale production facility for its CoolTerra soil amendment. The new manufacturing facility is located in Camarillo, California.

“This is an important step for our company, and we believe for the agriculture industry more broadly,” said Howard Janzen, President and CEO of Cool Planet. “We have developed a technologically-advanced soil amendment that enables farmers and growers to increase their crop yields with the same watering levels, and in drought conditions under water restrictions, to maintain overall production levels.”

The Digest took the opportunity to get caught up with Rick Wilson, who is heading up Cool Planet’s CoolTerra business. He’s well remembered in the space from his time as CEO of Cobalt Technologies, formerly Cobalt Biofuels — and one of the first CEOs to definitely point a technology towards renewable chemicals, as opposed to fuels, by posing the question “Why make a $3 fuel when you can make a $5 chemical?”

This week, we spoke about  CoolTerra — the soil amendment product that is expected to substantially boost the economics and environmental attributes of renewable gasoline from Cool Planet.

The CoolTerra story

“2 years ago, after I had left Cobalt and relocated to Southern California” Wilson told the Digest, ” I was active on the NREL advisory board, and there had been work on pyrolysis, and I thought pyrolysis had a legitimate t chance, but one of the biggest challenges was the second carbon stream.”

In fast pyrolysis, there generally are three streams — a gas stream that can be burned for power, a liquid bio-oil, and a residual black carbon-rich product generally known as bio-char. Elsewhere in the Digets today we look at the challenges and opportunities with bio-oil — but one of the applications that has been tried for years with biochar is as a soil amendment, given that it is somewhat related to terra prete, a charcoal-like product used by natives for years to add carbon to the poor soils of the Amazon region.

“There have been lots of failed attempts,” said Wilson. “In many of them, biochar actually did a good job of killing everything in a given radius, instead of making plants stronger.”

“Then one time I went to Yosemite, to a forest fire site, and I realized that there was a dramatic impact on the soil. At first, the pyrolized trees — they were almost charcoaled in some cases, and there was this dramatic change. At first, everything died, as if the soil chemistry had been completey changed, but then the forest took off like crazy.”

“So I thought there really could be some impact — we really could address this carbon opportunity. So, we went about the job of improving biochar.”

What is it?

Indeed, Wilson and CoolPlanet don’t like the use of the word biochar” in conjunction with their product.”Biochar is what we start with, CoolTerra is what we produce,” he said, with the helpful tones of a teacher pointing out the difference between corn and ethanol.

The process. “It’s organic. We are filing for patents, so I don’t want to say too much, but there is water and vinegar in the process process. We fix the pH problem that biochar has, and get rid of the toxins. Plus, we have developed application processes. The overall impact dramatically improves the performance.”

CoolPlanet describes CoolTerra as a “highly porous soil enhancer engineered to retain water and fertilizer for improving soil health and productivity. For farmers and growers in the Western U.S. and elsewhere, the commercially available amendment gives them the ability to maintain or improve their crop yield. Reducing fertilizer use also mitigates water pollution from farm runoff.

Performance

In a recent field trial testing the effectiveness of CoolTerra on high-value strawberry crops, CoolTerra increased production by 56 percent with normal watering levels and with 40 percent less fertilizer. In recent turf grass trials with a municipality, a one-time permanent application of CoolTerra enabled water use to be cut in half, while improving the overall appearance of the lawns.

“While untreated soil allows water and nutrients to evaporate or leach into the ground, away from the root zone of plants, CoolTerra™ retains water and nutrients in the root zone due to its engineered properties.”

“It’s a water story,” Wilson adds, “reducing water needs by half in some applications.”

Reduce water by half? There must be dozens of applications just in the California market alone, which is battling a severe drought .

“There are a range of applications,” Wilson says. “There’s turfgrass, for one. CoolTerra was applied during an aeration and was swept into plug holes. It cut water use by half in a Thousand Oaks trial, and a golf course averages 4 acre feet of water for the irrigated acres, each year.”

What about commodity farming applications?

“In commodity farming, there are opportunities where, with precision application where it can be applied at the time of seeding, and can reduce fertilizer use by 2/3.”

How much is applied per acre?

“It can vary depending on the application. It could be as much as 2 tons per acre at the high end, for example making strawberries nore drought-resistant, or as low as 11 kilograms per acre have been trialled for wheat.”

So, we asked Wilson about markets beyond the California HQ for CoolTerra. What about Louisiana, for example, where CoolPlanet’s first commercial facility is under development?

“Louisiana? We’re still working on understanding that market, but keep in mind that it costs typically $25-$40 per ton for transit from Louisiana to the California market.”

What if results in commercial everyday use do not mirror what has been seen in trials, as has been known to happen in agriculture?

“Products that can have impacts at this level are going to have big margins because of the value for growers. So, even if it has set backs in performance with a given application at commercial-scale, there are going to remain big opportunities from a market development point of view.”

CoolPlant CEO Howard Janzen notes, “In addition to the results we’ve seen in drought-stricken California, we’ve also begun trialling CoolTerra™ in the Middle East to enhance crop yields in the arid desert climate,” said Janzen. ”And we’re actively exploring other international market opportunities.

Cool Planet takes big steps toward scale for waste-to-gasoline, soil amendment

cool-planetUSDA issues $91M loan guarantee conditional commit to Cool Planet.

Obama Adminstration back building of the company’s first commercial plant in Louisiana, as it opens its first commercial-scale Cool Terra operation in California.

“First of hundreds” says Cool Planet CEO.

In California, Cool Planet Energy Systems was issued a $91MM conditional commitment from the United States Department of Agriculture for a loan guarantee to support construction of the company’s first commercial manufacturing plant. The facility will be located at the Port of Alexandria, Louisiana.

Last year, Cool Planet Energy Systems CEO Howard Janzen said that the company will build three bio-refineries in Louisiana with a capital investment of $168 million. The projects will consist of modular biomass-to-gasoline refineries in the Port of Alexandria, Natchitoches and a site to be determined. Cool Planet will create 72 new direct jobs, averaging $59,600 per year, plus benefits. Additionally, LED estimates the project will result in 422 new indirect jobs, for a total of 494 new jobs. The company estimates 750 construction jobs will also be created by the project.

Back in February, Cool Planet Energy Systems broke ground on the Alexandria plant, dubbed Project Genesis. Permits have been received to begin earthwork and grading. The site was chosen because of its excellent wood biomass availability, interstate and rail access, and direct barge access to more than nine refineries. The facility is expected to produce at least 24 direct jobs and bring at least $56 million in economic investment into the state. Estimates are that an additional 150 indirect jobs will result because of this facility, and 350 construction jobs will be utilized.

CoolPlanet-1

“We expect this commercial plant to be the first of hundreds of plants that our company will build across the United States,” said Janzen. “From this process, we will also produce a co-product called CoolTerra which is an advanced soil amendment. CoolTerra enables agricultural producers to retain water and nutrients in soil to increase crop yields, and in drought conditions, to maintain their crop yields with significantly less water and fertilizer.”

CoolPlanet-4

Cool Planet broke ground on its first commercial facility at the Port of Alexandria earlier this year. Site preparation and detailed engineering design work is currently underway, and the company expects to start construction before the end of the year. Construction of the initial plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 with commercial operations beginning in early 2016. The USDA financing could play a role both in the first commercial deployment in Alexandria and subsequent expansion.

Cool Planet will utilize wood waste and forest byproducts to make gasoline at its initial commercial-scale facilities in Louisiana. Each bio-refinery will be capable of producing 10 million gallons of high-octane, low-vapor pressure gasoline for strategic distribution through existing market channels and for blending at Louisiana refineries.

CoolPlanet-2

In August, Cool Planet said expects to put out to tender later this year for construction of its first commercial waste-to-gasoline facility. It has already begun ground clearing ahead of the process. Front-end design work should be finished by November. The facility should start producing 1 million gallons per year beginning in 2016, later scaling up to 10 million gallons.

CoolTerra facility opens at commercial-scale

In related news, Cool Planet unveiled its first commercial-scale production facility for its CoolTerra soil amendment. The new manufacturing facility is located in Camarillo, California.

CoolTerra is a highly porous soil enhancer engineered to retain water and fertilizer for improving soil health and productivity. For farmers and growers in the Western U.S. and elsewhere, the commercially available amendment gives them the ability to maintain or improve their crop yield. Reducing fertilizer use also mitigates water pollution from farm runoff.

In a recent field trial testing the effectiveness of CoolTerra on high-value strawberry crops, CoolTerra increased production by 56 percent with normal watering levels and with 40 percent less fertilizer. In recent turf grass trials with a municipality, a one-time permanent application of CoolTerra enabled water use to be cut in half, while improving the overall appearance of the lawns.

“Based on the results of our scientifically-designed field trials and the early interest that we’re seeing from growers, we know that this advanced soil amendment offers a compelling solution for addressing drought conditions and water restrictions,” said Rick Wilson, Vice President, CoolTerra Business for Cool Planet.

“While untreated soil allows water and nutrients to evaporate or leach into the ground, away from the root zone of plants, CoolTerra retains water and nutrients in the root zone due to its engineered properties.”

“In addition to the results we’ve seen in drought-stricken California, we’ve also begun trialing CoolTerra in the Middle East to enhance crop yields in the arid desert climate,” said Janzen. ”And we’re actively exploring other international market opportunities.

More about Cool Terra here.

The Cool Planet backstory

Earlier this year, Cool Planet announced that it has closed on its targeted $100 million Series D financing. North Bridge Venture Partners and Concord Energy were the lead investors for the round. The round added investors from Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Mexico to a marquee existing investor base, including North Bridge Venture Partners, Shea Ventures, BP, Google Ventures, Energy Technology Ventures (GE, ConocoPhillips, NRG Energy), and the Constellation division of Exelon.

The news was a follow-up to the announcement last September that the company had raised $19.4M in the second close of a “D round” equity raise, after closing on more than $29.9M in June of 2013, bringing the total raised to more than $60 Million, including the remaining commitments from existing investors.

Why is the company getting such attention?

It’s a variation on low, lower and lowest. Low scale-up risk and infrastructure requirements for the fuel, lower operating cost per gallon of fuel, and lowest (which is to say, negative) carbon emissions.

The Bottom Line

The timelines have moved back — possibly related to financing. Originally the company was discussing a completion of construction on the first commercial in 2014 — now the word is late 2015 with start-up in 2016.

At the same time, the volume is ramping up more cautiously. The company continues to guide that the first commercial will have 10 million gallons in capacity, but the initial deployment will be in the 1M gallons range.

Also, there have been variances in the discussion around project cost — could be simply media confusion. Certainly we spotted a report in August projecting a $56 million tab for the construction cost of the first commercial, yet the loan guarantee is for a higher amount – $91 million in all. It may well be that the inatial project tender is for the first million gallons, and the overall project cost is higher. Or, the loan guarantee could cover 54 percent debt portion of the first three projects. We’ll wait to learn more.

We’ve said it before: The key, in so many ways, is in Cool Terra — a product that has to deliver a substantial market if Cool Planet is to reach its cost and emissions goals.

More on the $100M series D venture round.

More on the ground breaking.

On the Move in Biofuels: Cool Planet

In Colorado, Cool Planet Energy Systems announced 4 key appointments for construction and operations of its first commercial plant in the U.S.  Randy Tucker will serve as Vice President, Capital Projects, with overall responsibility for directing the project.  Robert Djelveh will serve as Vice President, Supply Chain, and Rex Downen will serve as Construction Manager on-site at the facility in Alexandria, Louisiana.  Tim Palculict will serve as Plant Manager, with responsibility for plant operability, bringing the plant online and leading the plant’s operations.

Cool Planet’s first plant will be located at the Port of Alexandria, on the Red River Waterway in central Louisiana. The site was chosen because of the availability of wood biomass, interstate and rail access, and direct barge access to more than ten refineries. The plant will convert wood biomass into green fuels that are chemically identical to fossil fuels. The process also produces CoolTerra, the company’s biochar-based product that increases crop productivity and promotes more robust plant health, while reducing fertilizer and water requirements. The company’s technology enables it to build small, efficient, lower cost facilities close to the sources of biomass feedstock.  This minimizes transportation costs and the risks associated with investments in large, centralized plants.

More on the story.