Gaining Efficiency

Blue Marble continues to refine the economics of biorefining
By Bryan Sims | November 21, 2011

If there’s ever a blueprint of the integrated biorefinery of the future, it could well be  the one operated by Blue Marble Biomaterials in Missoula, Mont. Since it opened in July, the Seattle-based firm has demonstrated how sustainable biomass refining and chemical manufacturing can convert virtually any organic feedstock imaginable via flexible conversion platforms into a range of biobased chemicals for the food, fragrance and cosmetic industries, while producing zero waste in the process.

Blue Marble’s biorefinery recycles nearly 100 percent of its water through a reverse osmosis system, which saves more than 26,000 gallons of water monthly. Recycled water is returned and used in the company’s algae remediation systems. In addition, the company has devised novel pathways to recycle biogas, which then enters an algae-based photobioreactor system developed by partner Bionavitas where it’s populated with several microalgae strains. The remaining biogas is routed to a proprietary pyrolysis and gasification unit where emissions and excess undergo a thermochemical process to become pyrolysis oil.

“The issue of uneven economics of scale for each platform technology is an issue that companies like Blue Marble will have to contend with in the future,” says Blue Marble CEO Kelly Ogilvie. “From an ecosystem perspective, the more companies that actually employ these technologies, the better the industry is going to get at figuring out how to make them work together.”

While the biorefinery is only producing several thousand kilograms per month, Ogilvie says the company expects to be delivering samples of biochemicals to its commercial partners later this year with purchase orders expected to go out the door by first quarter next year. 

—Bryan Sims