Renewable Chemical Manufacturer Redefines Resourcefulness

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Blue Marble Biomaterials Releases Details on Zero-Waste Systems in Biorefinery

Fermentation tanks convert biomass to biochemicals at the zero-waste facility.

It’s about using the 'whole animal' and seeing every stage of the production process as an opportunity to produce new products and revenue streams. -Kelly Ogilvie, CEO

In July, Blue Marble Biomaterials announced the opening of a zero-waste biorefinery in Missoula, Montana. Now, the company is coming forward with technical details on how its biorefinery is pioneering sustainable systems in biomass refining and chemical manufacturing. The company is already distinctive because its primary feedstocks are byproduct biomass such as coffee grounds and beer mash, which reduces landfill waste and requires less energy to procure than virgin crops. Blue Marble Biomaterials’ investments to make its Montana biorefinery zero-waste through water recycling, biogas recycling and solid material recycling confirm the company’s position as a leader in sustainable manufacturing.

Blue Marble’s biorefinery recycles nearly 100% of its water through a reverse osmosis system, saving over 26,000 gallons of water per month. These reverse osmosis systems are also used in toilet-to-tap programs across the country and produce drinkable water. Recycled water is returned to the biochemical fermentation system and also used in the company’s algae remediation systems. Because this system separates water from biochemical products, it also significantly reduces the overall energy required to distill and refine chemicals, traditionally a very energy intensive process.

Blue Marble Biomaterials has also found novel pathways to recycle biogas, a natural byproduct of any fermentation system. Biogas is first scrubbed to liberate heavy greenhouse gasses, such as NOx and SOx. The gas then goes into an algae-based photobioreactor system developed by partner Bionavitas and populated with several micro algae strains. Algae within these reactors consume CO2 and methane to further reduce greenhouse gas content of the biogas. The remaining biogas is routed to a proprietary pyrolysis and gasification unit, where emissions and excess undergo a thermal chemical process to become pyrolysis oil.

Lastly, there is very little solid waste biomass remaining from Blue Marble’s process; both cellulose and hemi-cellulose are consumed in the fermentation process. Non-digestible fibers, primarily lignin, undergo further processing to become useful components in the flavor and fragrance industry. The remaining fibers are moved to gasification and pyrolysis reactors. These units create oils that can be converted into even more biobased chemical products. Gas created from this process remains inside of the reactors to provide continuous heat in the gasification and pyrolysis process.

With these reuse systems in place, the company seeks to advance the economics of biorefining. “Biorefineries are just beginning to gain the efficiencies that more established manufacturers have learned over the years,” says Kelly Ogilvie, CEO. “It’s about using the 'whole animal' and seeing every stage of the production process as an opportunity to produce new products and revenue streams.”


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Julia Ruedig
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