Interview: Rivertop Renewables

The Green blog’s interview with Rivertop Renewables founder Donald Kiely, and director of marketing Jason Kiely (also Don’s son) revealed the potential power of glucaric acid as a renewable-based alternative chemical.

The company hopes to launch sample product applications of its low-cost glucaric acid next year, first as corrosion inhibitors as well as an alternative to phosphate in detergent cleaning products.

So what’s the story behind Rivertop Renewables?

According to Don Kiely, who is a retired professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Montana, he has been focusing on finding practical applications for carbohydrates for more than a decade. Low-cost production of glucaric acid is one of his patented technologies and he hopes to have it commercialized before he fully retires in two years.

Hence, Rivertop Renewables was formed in January 2008 with their first round of funding mostly from the founders themselves, friends/families, and a couple of angel investors.

The company said they just recently introduced themselves to the venture community and hope to close their second round of financing soon.

“We are getting good signs from advisors within the industry. We are a well-managed company, our technology is now well-positioned, and so we are hopeful to get a good traction early on even though there is of course a little trepidation on our part given the capital market situation out there,” said Jason Kiely.

Rivertop is also currently seeking commercial partners both in the large-scale manufacturing of glucaric acid as well as companies that are interested in its application. Don Kiely said that they are already engaged in discussions with several chemical companies and hope to start a pilot plant of about 3 million pounds/year by 2010 using an existing infrastructure.

“2010 will be a big year for us as we are also targeting to get large amount of samples out for that year,” said Don Kiely. “We’ve been in contact with 20 plus prospective customers and we believe that we can make our 2010 targets because of the effectiveness of the scalability of our glucaric acid process.”

As noted in the blog’s previous post, glucaric acid is a sugar-based acid created by oxidizing glucose which can be used as a building block chemical. The markets for glucaric acid and derivatives are said to be undeveloped as they are expensive and the supply has been limited, with most being use for research or as a health supplement ingredient.

According to the company, their glucaric acid process is a very simple chemical process, applicable to a variety of carbohydrates, does not rely on any particular microorganism to make the transformation, and if everything will go well, there will be no waste products involved because of a closed loop processing design.

Most of the glucose today comes from cornstarch but Don Kiely noted that their process can use biomass-based carbohydrate feedstock if they’re available.

The company plans to first introduced glucaric acid-based corrosion inhibitors in road salt deicers, and in water heating and cooling systems as early as late 2010. According to Jason Kiely, there is still one more testing to be done with the application of glucaric-aid as a detergent builder.

Also under development are applications of glucaric acid as concrete admixture; as biodegradable polymer gel that can compete with polyacrylates in diapers; and as agricultural biodegradable hydrogel for cost-effective, time-release fertilizer.

[Photo of Tyler Smith, R&D director for Rivertop Renewables, working with a rotary evaporator]

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