Carbon-Neutral Solution

Montana is home to world’s first zero-waste biorefinery
By Bryan Sims | July 25, 2011

Sustainability and energy efficiency took on a whole new shape for Blue Marble Biomaterials when the biobased specialty chemical firm based in Seattle opened its first commercial biobased chemical facility in Missoula, Mont. According to President and CEO Kelly Ogilvie, the new biorefinery is projected to produce more than 72 tons of fine and specialty chemicals annually from a variety of cellulosic and lignocellulosic biomass, such as agricultural residues, coffee grounds, spent brewery waste or wood waste, using a proprietary supercritical fluid extraction and fermentation-based technology developed in-house by the company.

“The real value isn’t really in the equipment,” Ogilvie tells Biorefining Magazine, “it’s in the intellectual property of the microbes. The intellectual property of the company is bound up in the cell walls of the mircroorganisms and the broad range of molecules they can express is what gives us that competitive advantage.”

Target product offerings for Blue Marble include carboxylic acids and esters, such as ethyl butyrate for the food and flavoring market, and propyl butyrate for the cosmetics and fragrances markets.

In addition to the suite of biochemical offerings Blue Marble intends to produce, Ogilvie stresses the importance of how his company will create value-added products from the waste produced at the facility, which features novel recycling systems, such as a photobioreactor that contains algae for purifying wastewater and waste gases from its fermentation system. Solid waste from the spent feedstock is dried and pelletized for use in wood-burning furnaces and stoves.

 “Our ultimate goal is to be completely off the grid and have zero waste coming out of that facility,” Ogilvie says. 

—Bryan Sims