The Blue Knight Group is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a use for beetle kill. Richard Dziomba, a planning commissioner for Summit County started the Blue Knight Group four years ago when trying to determine what to do with a landfill that had been filled to the brim with waste from beetle kill. It was proposed that the firing range used by the sheriff department and local police forces be used to create more room for the dead trees. Of course this would be only a temporary solution. Dziomba told the Oredigger, “So the deal was the landfill simply could not except any more wood private or public. Summit county is two-thirds wooded. How do you create fire breaks? How do you let homeowners clear the land?” He continued to say that burning excess wood has been banned in a state moratorium after a forest fire was started by forest service trying to reduce fire hazard by removing excess trees. “So needless to say, all of us commissioners are not really thrilled about burning,” said Dziomba. “You know it’s dry, and what happens if it gets out of control?”
Realizing that there had to be a use for this natural resource, Dziomba started the Blue Knight Group. This group intends to use beetle kill in several ways. One way is as a heat and energy source and another is helping develop a small, but already existing beetle kill furniture industry. The beetle kill furniture industry right now has little exposure and is limited to weekend fairs. Dziomba hopes to eventually establish a warehouse and a website that can be used to sell these pieces in an efficient way such that sellers can put more time into making products instead of finding places to sell them. This increase in production will reduce the excess of beetle kill trees while generating jobs.
Dziomba’s more ambitious idea though, is to establish industrial boilers for local, but large facilities requiring cheap heating and energy. The process will start by harvesting the trees and turning them into a compact fuel source for boiler use. Dziomba said, “My vision is that this operation will take place at the current landfill, four tons of chips will come in a day and four tons of brickets will come out that day so that it is a constant through loop that keeps the landfill from filling up.” This process will give the county some revenue so that they can operate a recycling facility. Dziomba went on to explain that if too much wood is cut, the excess can be stored on forest service land until needed. After the creation of the brickets, the fuel will be burnt in a boiler.
Dziomba is hoping to first install these boilers at ski resorts such as Copper and Arapahoe Basin. He says it makes sense to install them at ski resorts not only because they have an obvious need for heat, and energy, but also because the dead trees on ski park land represent a huge liability “if a skier were to hit one of these trees when the snow conditions are bad.” The boilers would be placed on the side of the building and would tie it into their duct system so as to reduce the cost of remodeling to accommodate the boilers.
One of the reasons Dziomba thinks this effort has been so successful already is because unlike other biofuel projects, the production of boilers and fuel has an extremely quick turnaround. Instead of a large power plan that could take years to build and even longer to permit boilers can be “pieced up and shipped out.” Dziomba went onto highlight the importance of this quick turnaround. “Our state has mandated that every power company in the state has to double their green output by 2020. Thats six years away, how are they going to get a plant built that is going to double their green energy output?”
Dziomba’s long-term plan is to propagate slowly at first. Once they have worked out the kinks and know they have an efficient and profitable model in place, they can start expanding to other resorts. “I have already contacted Vail and Summit County about biomass installation. Once we have the groundwork for one, we can easily move from two boilers to twelve more facilities,” said Dziomba.
So how has Dziomba been moving forward? He has obtained funding from grants and has a system set up with BBVA Compass so that for every checking account opened at BBVA Compass donates 50 dollars to the Blue Knight Group. Additionally, Dziomba has been working with groups at University of Denver and Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Graduate students at CSU are evaluating potential boiler designs. Said Dziomba, “We have three firms interested in designing the boilers, but they want a check written to them for the rest of their time. But we don’t know how well the boilers will perform and so graduate students at CSU will determine which design is going to be the most effective.” MBA students at DU are determining the best business model for the Blue Knight Group.
Dziomba is now looking at involvement from students at Colorado School of Mines. Specifically he wants to hire interns. Dziomba needs students from all grade levels as well as professors and alumni, from all disciplines. Dziomba is especially looking for students with an aptitude for GIS in order to determine what areas can be harvested cheaply and in a way that will minimize negative environmental impacts. He is also needs students to design the website, fundraise, and work in association with the students at CSU or DU. But Dziomba said above all else, “We are looking for activists.” Dziomba asks that interested students, alumni, or professors contact him through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone number: 303-912-1921, and check out their website http://blueknightgroup.org/.
Anyone interested in the Blue Knight Group mission of tapping an unused resource to create energy, jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, bolster local economies and reduce fire hazards in Colorado should get in contact with Dziomba. This partnership should go far; after all, it seems like the Colorado School of Mines mantra “Earth Energy Environment” is echoed in the Blue Knight Group’s mission and perhaps that is why Richard Dziomba is so interested in working with CSM.