Biorefinery, Company initiatives, Investments

Blue Marble buys site for commercial biorefinery

Specialty biochemical manufacturer Blue Marble Biomaterials (BMB) announced yesterday that it has completed the purchase of former GTC Oats Inc. facility in Missoula, Montana, which was previously a wet extraction processing plant for food ingredients manufacture.

The site includes 3.81 acres of land, a 19,000 square foot building complex, and parking stalls for over 100 employees. BMB said the site will become the company’s first large commercial biorefinery. The building will be retrofitted with systems that will allow for greater energy efficiency and enable the site to be a showcase for the company’s “zero waste” focus”, according to Colby Underwood, co-CEO and chief business officer for BMB.

The zero waste system will include recycling water through a reverse osmosis system; producing biogas using algae remediation systems developed by partner Bionavitas; and eliminating solid waste materials using gasification and pyrolysis reactors.

The last time the blog reported about BMB was in January when the company secured an exclusive distribution contract with Sigma Aldrich’s custom manufacturing and services business unit SAFC. The deal gives SAFC’s customers ready access to Blue Marble’s biobased chemicals portfolio.

Last year in September, I interviewed Underwood for an article that was published by ICIS. Back then, BMB said the first products the company plans to sell are thiol esters for savory flavoring applications. BMB’s long-term vision includes developing partnerships to build facilities at several major breweries to manufacture drop-in chemicals from spent grains and other wastes created on-site.

The company started its 100,000 liters/month biorefinery in 2011 in Missoula, Montana, which initially produced 60-70% carboxylic acids and 30-40% natural esters. The facility is producing 72 tonnes/year of fine chemicals, according to Underwood.

BMB is using waste feedstock specifically fermentation residues like spent grains from beer manufacture and spent coffee grounds. The company does not genetically modify bacteria but instead combines different species of bacteria and hybridize them to produce the molecules they want.

Their AGATE (Acid, Gas, and Ammonia Targeted Extraction) process works as follows:

The feedstock go through emulsification, subcritical and supercritical extractions followed by a fermentation process which is a hybridization of up to 9 different varieties of molecules. One of the byproducts is hydrogen sulfide (H2S) production which is converted into mercaptans and thiols for food flavorings and personal care applications.

The waste stream undergoes pyrolysis and gasification creating syngas while fermentation and distillation produces natural esters and organic acids. Supercritical extraction meanwhile yields carotenoids, terpenes and oils.

BMB has been around since 2005 and currently has 24 employees. The company said it expects to see significant growth in the coming months with the site purchase. BMB recently closed a $15m debt financing deal through the USCIS EB-5 Program created by Congress in 1990 as a mechanism to stimulate economic activity, encourage foreign investment in US companies and create domestic jobs.

BMB expects to create over 300 direct and indirect jobs in the Missoula area as a result of the financing and the site purchase.

BMB’s semi-commercial facility

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.


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