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Wes Bolsen Working to Make Biofuels Economical and Environmentally Beneficial

Friday, August 14, 2015
Wes Bolsen at Coolplanet.

Fueling progress: Wes Bolsen believes Cool Planet can provide abundant fuel while reversing climate change.

Wes Bolsen doesn't mess around.

The 2000 electrical engineering graduate is helping lead a company that wants to revolutionize the agriculture and energy markets while conserving water and combating climate change.

Bolsen is head of business development and public affairs at Cool Planet, a Colorado-based biofuel and biocarbon company. The company will open its first renewable fuel production facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, next year. The plant will make gasoline and other fuels from wood chips and agricultural waste, such as corn stalks.

"That alone is a huge statement," says Bolsen, who is one of the nation's top experts in biofuels.

Another "huge statement" is that Cool Planet believes its fuel will be "carbon negative," meaning the more it is used, the more carbon is removed from the atmosphere, thus battling climate change.

Here's how it works: Plants suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they are growing and alive. When those plants are later heated to a high temperature in the absence of oxygen (a process known as pyrolysis) to produce fuel, the carbon coproduct takes the form of a black chunky material Cool Planet calls CoolTerra™.

CoolTerra™ can then be placed back in the ground to enrich soil to improve the growth of new plants, and it reduces water usage because it holds water like a sponge. Because the carbon is locked into the earth and not released into the atmosphere, Cool Planet is effectively taking more carbon out of the air than it is returning. Where CoolTerra™ is being used, it is also cutting down on water usage, such as in drought-stricken California.

Wes Bolsen Plants

Revolutionary Fuel: Wes Bolsen helps run Cool Planet, a company determined to reverse climate change will creating a low-cost renewable fuel.

"In essence, you have vacuumed CO2 out of the atmosphere," Bolsen says. "You are reversing climate change."

Wood chips and other materials used to produce fuel will come from within a 40-mile radius of the facility, Bolsen says. He envisions hundreds of plants around the country, all utilizing renewable non-food plant life, such as tree debris or corn stalks, as a fuel source.

Bolsen recently talked about Cool Planet's Biochar product and the future of biofuel technology on MSNBC's Greenhouse show.

Cool Planet broke ground on its first biorefinery last spring in central Louisiana. The facility, expected to start up in 2016, will ultimately make more than 5 million gallons of gasoline per year. Gov. Bobby Jindal, at the groundbreaking ceremony, called it "one of the most exciting projects" he has announced as governor.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a $91 million loan guarantee for the Alexandria plant. Other investors in Cool Planet include Google, GE, British Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips.

Bolsen, who is returning to Rose-Hulman this year for his 15th class reunion, credits the institute for much of his post-graduate success. He also credits faith and family.

"I thank God every day," Bolsen says.

Bolsen is a loyal donor to Rose-Hulman and, as a former team manager, will be an honorary coach for the Fightin' Engineers Homecoming Day football matchup against Hanover College.

"'To whom much is given, much is expected,'" Bolsen says. "I am indebted to Rose-Hulman. I will continue to give back because of what it did for me."