by Kirby Lindsay
“Everything around us today,” Kelly Ogilvie challenged, “look around…” Our food, clothes, drugs, cosmetics, furniture, electronics and anything plastic contains petro-chemicals. “Our entire civilization is based on petroleum,” he said, “this is not the future we want, or can sustain.” It has been said before, but never by someone so perfectly positioned to change this fact – and soon.
Ogilvie founded Blue Marble Energy with James Stephens in 2005. They met through a Craigslist ad Ogilvie placed in search of someone who shared his dream to create a sustainable energy source. In a Fremont warehouse, they first focused on sequestering carbon by producing algae into energy, but in trying to do that they discovered a way to make spent grain into perfume.
To manufacture anything – from candy to cotton-fabric dyes – fabricators use petro-chemicals. “Our modern society has gotten so used to cheap stuff,” Ogilvie explained, “and that is due to petroleum.” Petroleum based chemicals had been so cheap to use that they replaced natural ingredients (e.g. vanilla flavoring instead of vanilla) in the manufacturing process.
Today, Blue Marble can offer a portfolio of 32 ‘bio-chemicals’ that all serve as direct replacements for 32 commonly used petro-chemicals. They’ve proven it can be done thanks to Sweet Anthem who created a line of perfumes called EOS using their bio-chemical. Sold through the Blue Marble website, they’ve had interest from Texas, Hawaii, New York, as well as Finland and Brazil.
More importantly Oglvie and Blue Marble Communications Manager Danielle Hendrix pointed out, they’ve caught the attention of the large cosmetics manufacturers. Companies that might like to put a ‘petroleum-free, carbon-neutral’ boast on their products.
Bio-chemicals start at Blue Marble from bacteria they’ve “hybridized” to create “metabolic pathways” in different strains. In English, these bacteria breakdown specific types of biological mass – one eats lawn clippings, another feasts on leftover hops, etc. They’ve targeted the bacteria to use organic (as opposed to in-organic) matter most likely to be common for generations to come. “I think bio-mass is the future,” Ogilvie said, “think of waste in a new way.”
Some bacteria cause disease in humans while others keep us healthy, and some at Blue Marble can turn Seattle Parks Department clean greens into a bio-chemical flavoring for Juicy Fruit gum. “Our bacteria can handle a wide variety of bio-mass,” Ogilvie explained, including yard waste, food waste, used hops from Fremont Brewing Company, macro-algae from Puget Sound, Kimberly-Clark sludge, etc.
In tanks (or reactors) the bio-mass ferments in the bacteria which “excrete the chemicals we want,” Ogilvie explained. The “AGATE” system – acid gas ammonia targeted extraction – separates out the chemicals after fermentation. Further refining, in chemical catalysis, creates one specific bio-chemical.
In the Fremont facility, they can create about 4 or 5 liters of chemicals. Hendrix described this output in terms like “bench scale” and “demonstration.” A grant from the State of Washington has helped them develop a facility in Lincoln County, to hopefully be operational in 2011, where they can create 750 gallons of chemicals a month. The plant will provide 70 green jobs - a 5% increase in employment for that county.
Fremont will have to give up this innovative, progressive business to Eastern Washington, but we all benefit as yard waste goes back to work and, hopefully, “Now Petroleum-Free!” labels arrive on Peeps. So, don’t cry too hard for our loss – in the years to come, we will still brag about how it all got started right here.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.