Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Fruitful Collaboration Between Industry and University in Montana

Blue Marble Agate

Blue Marble Energy (BME) moved from Seattle to Missoula, Montana, in order to be close to its collaboration with the University of Montana. Together, UM and BME are working to solve a number of mundane but important problems that occur where energy, chemistry, economics, and the environment overlap.
Two geoscience faculty members at The University of Montana (UM) have started a partnership with Blue Marble Biomaterials to produce commercial products from algal biomass.

Potential products include organic fertilizers, natural pigments, food flavorings, fatty acids for biofuels, cholesterol-reducing compounds for food additives, and natural anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer drugs. Natural inputs and nontoxic production methods will give potential products a competitive advantage over similar products produced from petroleum and other nonrenewable sources.

...Stephens says UM’s favorable attitude toward industry partnerships was one factor in the decision to move the company from Seattle to Missoula in 2010.
Partnering with UM is key to our research and development program. Innovation happens at the nexus of science and market opportunity. This partnership combines Blue Marble’s expertise in chemistry, microbiology and industrial manufacturing with the University’s excellence in research methodology, geoscience and biology. By combining these strengths, we are able to take advantage of an existing market opportunity.

—James Stephens
Blank notes that such industry partnerships also offer educational opportunities for UM students. Since 2010 Blue Marble has hired six UM graduates, including four students from the College of Technology. Currently, Blue Marble hosts five interns from UM who gain broad experience in biology, chemistry, engineering and business operations. _GCC
Earlier article on BME
Blue Marble Energy’s AGATE (Acid, Gas, and Ammonia Targeted Extraction) technology utilizes modified anaerobic fermentation (like brewing beer) and non-GMO bacterial consortia to produce biochemicals, biomethane, biohydrogen, and nitrogen compounds. BME scientists encourage bacterial conjugation between select strains that specialize in the breakdown of different feedstocks. The conditioning of these consortia creates flexible and resilient bacterial cultures that perform well in high nitrogen environments and can withstand shocks to the system (such as changes in pH, temperature, and feedstock). This allows AGATE to process nearly any organic biomass: food waste, yard waste, spent brewery grain, algae, milfoil, corn silage, etc. AGATE can handle both fresh and wet feedstock, and can be adjusted to meet changing economic opportunities and market needs. _BME

This symbiotic multi-microbial approach would seem to be a more versatile way to deal with the conversion of biomass to useful materials and energy, and it reflects on a microbial level the symbiotic collaboration between BME and UM on the macro level.

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