Edit ModuleShow Tags

Research rock stars: Bio-derived star



The end of the 1985 film "Back to the Future" features Dr. Emmett Brown returning to present day in his time machine to pick up Marty McFly so he can return to the future and show him a problem concerning McFly's children.

Before they can make the trip, Brown opens a trash can in the driveway and begins placing garbage in a processor where it is turned into fuel for the time machine made from a DeLorean automobile.

In the movie, the year in which fuel from trash is possible is 2015. University of Colorado chemical engineering professor Al Weimer and his team beat that prediction by a few years by successfully turning yard clippings into green gas.

"This is the most direct route to replacing significant amounts of imported oil," said Weimer, who is working with Sundrop Fuels to commercialize the technology. "It will happen, and it will be large scale. If gasoline prices keep going up, we may be closer than anyone thinks."

No word on whether Weimer plans to tackle the concept of flying cars or time travel.

Weimer didn't set out to make gas from grass. He and his team of researchers, comprised mostly of students and funded by a Department of Energy grant, were developing a new way to split water and create hydrogen using sunlight and mirrors to superheat a cauldron of water and zinc. They were successful and only turned their attention to focusing sunlight on the grass clippings and creating green gas later.

"I like the challenge of making the better mousetrap," Weimer said. "I like being first in an area and working at the interface of technologies - like thermochemical biomass conversion. A lot of discovery happens at the interface, but it's very difficult to obtain funding there because funding supports specific silos.

"All my career, people have told me I could not do certain things. If I know it's possible and I understand the scientific fundamentals, I consider that a huge opportunity."

Weimer, now in his mid 50s, worked in private industry for 16 years before starting a career in academia and research in 1996. Several products of his research have been commercialized, and he admits he is hoping to make the big idea happen at some point "so that I never have to write another research proposal."

Weimer is co-founder of ALD NanoSolutions Inc., which uses atomic layer deposition and thin-film technology to develop coatings for a variety of hardware products and batteries.

Weimer says his true passion is working with his students.

"Being an academic teacher, researcher is the best job in the world," he said. "I have a direct impact on people - students - and it can impact their lifetime. I work incredibly hard, but enjoy it. I left industry because the fun went away."
{pagebreak:Page 1}

Edit Module
Kyle Ringo

Kyle Ringo is a Colorado native who has covered business and sports and the business of sports in the state for two decades for Cobizmag.com and a variety of publications. He covers the University of Colorado in his day job in Boulder at the Daily Camera. Contact him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter @KyleRiingo.

Get more content like this: Subscribe to the magazine | Sign up for our Free e-newsletter

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Articles

Key to growth: A relationship with your lender

It isn’t a secret – Colorado’s economy is vibrant and strong. New developments continue to spring up across the state, many entrepreneurs have started new businesses, and many more companies are growing and need resources to meet their increased demand. What’s the secret to ensure business owners...

Do we need a new word for entrepreneur?

Has the word entrepreneur become too trendy as to have lost its meaning? I’m hearing it and the word entrepreneurship being used in so many conversations incorrectly. I’m critical of the use of the word "entrepreneur"...are you?

Hot tips for emerging company boards

Emerging companies comprise a significant portion of Colorado businesses. Venture capitalists, angel investors and founders make up the shareholders and the boards of directors of many of these companies. I spoke recently to Fran Wheeler, a partner in the Business Department of the Colorado Office...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags