Mile High Roundup: A Big Biofuel Moves In and New Energy for Wind

7/12/13Follow @MichaelXBD

Welcome to the Mile High Roundup, a fortnightly review and recap of some of the interesting things that have happened over the past two weeks in the tech scene in Boulder, Denver, and around Colorado. It’s no secret tons of cool stuff is happening around the state, and this is a chance to catch up.

In this edition, a well-funded biofuel startup moves to Colorado, the renewable energy industry gives us some good news, and a biotech signs what could be a huge development deal.

COOL FUEL: Colorado also scored a win this week in the alternative fuels industry with the announcement that Cool Planet Energy Systems is moving to the Denver suburbs from California.

Cool Planet has developed a way to convert non-food biomass like dead pine trees and corn cobs into gasoline. The process also creates biochar which can be used as fertilizer that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Cool Planet CEO Howard Janzen said in a statement that the process is carbon negative, and it has impressed a nice roster of investors. Google Ventures, GE, BP, Exelon, NRG, Shea Ventures, North Bridge Venture Partners, and ConocoPhillips back the company, which has raised $55.6 million and is working on raising at least $70 million more.

Cool Planet will move its HQ to Greenwood Village and has committed to open its first manufacturing plant in Colorado. The company’s business model is to build microrefineries that can be located near biomass sources. The Colorado plant will make equipment for those refineries.

Colorado will give the company up to $3.1 million in tax credits if it meets its commitment to create 393 jobs over three years.

Unfortunately, Colorado has a lot of dead or dying trees for Cool Planet to use. For the past decade, beetles have ravaged Colorado’s forests, killing hundreds of thousands of acres each year.

SECOND WIND: Five years ago, the rise of renewable energy was one of the biggest stories in Colorado.

Then the Great Recession came, natural gas prices dropped through the floor, and companies started running into trouble scaling their tech—and the industry started looking like it could be the biggest bust, or at least a very big disappointment.

But 2013 has seen some of Colorado’s flagship companies get traction. One of them is wind turbine manufacturer Vestas.

Vestas is based in Denmark, but the heart of its North American operations is in Colorado. The company manufactures blades, nacelles, and tower components—the three major elements of a turbine—at facilities in northern Colorado and in Pueblo. Vestas reportedly employs more than 1,000 people in the state.

Vestas opened the Colorado plants a few years ago to great fanfare, but it made drastic cutbacks the past few years. Recently, the company said it plans to increase its Pueblo workforce by 230 workers this year.

Construction of a major wind farm in Canada reportedly is one of the reasons for the growth. The U.S. market also appears to be reviving now that the federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy has been restored. The credit helped boost the industry in the mid-2000s, but it became a political football and its renewal was in doubt for much of 2012. That caused orders to plummet.

BIG BIOPHARMA: Array BioPharma is a Boulder-based biotech that develops small molecule cancer drugs. This week the company announced what could be a very big licensing and collaboration deal, one that could yield Array $434 million.

Array will partner with Loxo Oncology, a New York-based company, to develop an unnamed drug candidate discovered by Array. Loxo will fund Array’s preclinical research and be responsible for target selection and conducting clinical trials, according to a release.

Array (NASDAQ: ARRY) has emerged as one of Colorado’s leading biotechs, while Loxo just got started in May. It was founded by Aisling Capital, a New York firm that invests in life science companies.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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