CEO Interview: Blue Marble Biomaterials

The blog was able to interview the CEO of Seattle-based Blue Marble BioMaterials Kelly Ogilvie and get to know the company. At first the blog compared Blue Marble BioMaterials (we’ll call it BMB for short) to Allylix and Amyris as the company also aims to target the food, flavorings and cosmetic markets with their fermentation-based terpenes, organic acids and natural esters products.

The difference is BMB’s use of 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.

So here’s how their AGATE (Acid, Gas, and Ammonia Targeted Extraction) process works: 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 10 employees. The company started this year its zero-waste 100,000 liters/month commercial biorefinery in Missoula, Montana, which will initially produce around 60-70% carboxylic acid (mixtures of butyric, propionic, formic acids), and 30-40% natural esters. The first product BMB plans to sell into the market are thiol esters for savory flavoring applications — think of curry flavored potato chips or coffee-flavored chewing gum ;-) .

The facility is expected to produce 72 tons/year of fine chemicals. Around 70% of the production in Montana are already under customer agreements, said Ogilvie.

Owly ImagesIn terms of feedstock, the company is sourcing spent grains from Colorado via its partner, which is a global beer manufacturer. Unfortunately, the blog’s lips is sealed when it comes to the name of the beer company but if you watch the video, you might find out who that is ;-) . Just making sure it didn’t come from me!

The best part of collaborating with a beer manufacturer, according to Ogilvie, is that they can access its fermentation expertise.

“The lesson of the brewing industry indicates that there will be more emphasis on local production, based on access to feedstock with resulting product differentiation.”- Ogilvie

BMB said it is targeting 5% of the global specialty chemicals and flavors/fragrance and cosmetics markets, which is projected to reach $5.5 trillion and $69.3bn, respectively, by 2025.

Another interesting point that BMB noted is that aside from using waste for feedstock, beer and coffee are actually among the top five most consumed liquids in the world (#1 water, #2 petroleum, #3 tea, #4 beer, #5 coffee). That means, there will be plenty of spent grains and coffee grounds worldwide to get into. Of course, the company can also use waste woods and algae but I guess using beer mash and coffee grounds for feedstock does makes sense.

Beer and coffee? Sounds like a biorefinery tailor-made for college students like me ;-) .

Back to BMB, the company emphasized it’s zero-waste system given that the company recycles water through a reverse osmosis system; biogas using algae remediation systems developed by partner Bionavitas; and solid waste materials using gasification and pyrolysis reactors.

By the way, why pick Montana for their biorefinery site and not Washington State? Ogilvie said Montana was very generous in terms of funding. Regulatory environment and cost to market were also lower in Montana, he said.

In terms of financials, the Montana biorefinery costs around $1.3m to $1.5m, which is not a huge investment compared to petrochemical-based projects, said Ogilvie. The company has raised $4.1 million since 2005 and received a $30,000 matching grant from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to study possible use of woody biomass in its processes.

The challenge, according to Ogilvie, is separating salts from water, and water from chemicals – which is where most of the operating costs are focused on.

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.

Last year, BMB partnered with global chemical distributor Sigma- Aldrich which will assist BMB with quality assurance procedures in order to bring renewable chemicals to market. BMB also signed memorandum of understanding (MOUs) with two global flavoring houses for purchase agreements starting this year.

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