After two years of planning and building a $3 million facility in Silver Plume, Rosalie Bianco is ready to start a revolution.
A pellet revolution, to be exact.
Bianco is on a mission to replace fossil fuels with a greener, cleaner alternative. Her business, New Earth Pellets, takes beetle-kill trees from Colorado mountainsides and mills them into pellets for pellet-burning stoves. The pellets are highly compressed nuggets of ground-up trees.
“I want us to get out of fossil fuels,” Bianco said, “because using fossil fuels is problematic for us economically and environmentally.”
According to Bianco, a recent study found that a single wood-pellet stove offsets more carbon than two hybrid cars.
Bianco is founder and CEO of the pellet-making firm and its sister company, Environmental Energy Partners. They open officially on Oct. 15, selling the pellets and the wood stoves that burn them.
Turning beetle-kill pine into useful material is pretty creative, but what makes the business even more innovative is that the milling plant can be moved closer to the raw wood materials.
“Now I can say, ‘I took your trees, your waste, made you pellets and left them here for you,’” Bianco said.
Bianco believes the Silver Plume mill will have a 15-year tour of duty before needing to head elsewhere to follow the available wood.
“Our whole philosophy is about being part of the solution. If there’s any way we can get (the trees) out of the forest and get them utilized and heating people’s homes, let’s do that,” Bianco said. “… We want to leave as small a footprint as we possibly can, and when there’s less beetle kill or we need to get closer to the beetle kill … I can disassemble this plant and move it.”
Locating in Silver Plume
Bianco first looked at building her mill in Idaho Springs but eventually settled on Silver Plume.
“We wanted to be on this side of the (Eisenhower) Tunnel, so we could provide not only wood pellets for mountain communities but also for the Denver area,” Bianco said. “And when you start thinking about the snow, trying to get over the tunnel in the wintertime — it’s pretty difficult.”
Building the mill’s giant tent-like structures began in January.
“Silver Plume has been absolutely wonderful to us,” Bianco said.
When the plant is operating 24 hours a day, trees will be hauled in during the day and the milling will take place at night. She hopes to increase her current staff of 25 to more than 80 and to build up to having 5,000 pellet customers.
“We just put out a little mailing, and we have gotten an overwhelming, wonderful response,” Bianco said.
Starting the plant
Bianco said her mill is relatively small and will produce 15,000 to 30,000 tons of pellets a year. She said other Colorado mills produce a combined 300,000 tons a year.
Bianco and her staff have been busy for the past few months getting everything in the plant to work correctly.
“Starting a plant is difficult because you have to get all of the machines to talk to each other properly, and sometimes they cooperate — and sometimes they just don’t want to,” Bianco said. “So everything that is going to malfunction or not work the way you want it to, all of those things will happen in the first two to three months, which is what these two or three months have been about.”
Before the pellet business
Bianco’s past careers were in manufacturing, restaurants, real estate, construction and development. She retired five years ago and moved to Colorado, living in a home near Grand Lake.
“I went up to Grand Lake and I built, with a few other people, a little house on Columbine Lake, and I sat up there and watched the trees die around me,” Bianco said. “It was breaking my heart. … No one expected (the trees to die) at the epidemic level it is happening.”
Bianco said that as the trees turned brown, she tried to figure out what she could do to make a difference. She started by buying a pellet stove. However, she found that getting pellets was difficult because of a shortage. Many of Colorado’s larger pellet companies were providing them to chain stores rather than catering to local residents.
“Why are my trees going somewhere else? If I want to buy a pellet stove, who is going to guarantee that I’m going to have pellets?” Bianco asked. “They couldn’t make pellets fast enough (because) there was such a demand for them, so I thought, ‘What would happen if I opened a small community mill?’ “
Bianco wanted to open her own mill that catered specifically to Colorado residents, so she, family members and a close group of friends put their savings into the project.
“We really believe in what we’re doing,” Bianco said.
Doing it right
There was a steep learning curve to entering the pellet industry. Bianco visited mills in Europe, Canada and the United States, and she consulted engineers.
She took the best ideas from the mills she visited and incorporated them into her Silver Plume mill.
“It’s like making wine or beer. You have a recipe. You decide what your recipe is going to be for your manufacturing company, what machines you’re going to put together, and then you produce that quality of product …,” Bianco said. “We chose to produce a very, very high-density pellet so that it doesn’t break up.”
Bianco also carries her passion into the nonprofit world. She is the founder of the nonprofit Yes! I Make a Difference, an organization dedicated to creating awareness about the beetle-kill epidemic and to raising money for restoration projects.
For information about New Earth Pellets or pellet stoves, call 303-202-WOOD or visit www.newearthpellets.com.