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A Seattle-based biotechnology company expects its Missoula facility to be fully operational within the next month.

Blue Marble Biomaterials, located in the Missoula Development Park, takes agricultural waste and produces renewable chemicals for industrial use. These products are created when waste is fed to bacteria and then fermented into useable chemicals.

Blue Marble co-founder and CEO Kelly Ogilvie said the products the company manufactures will be used in food flavorings, fragrances and cosmetics.

The recent consumer demand for more natural and environmentally friendly products is something Blue Marble is hoping to capitalize on.

"The stuff we eat and the stuff we put on our skin and in our bodies, people care about," Ogilvie.

Blue Marble started in Seattle as an alternative energy company, but has morphed into a biomaterials company.

Most consumer goods today are produced by using petroleum-based chemicals. But the refinement of petroleum products for consumer use creates significant pollution, said Ogilvie.

That's why he believes Blue Marble's alternatively produced chemicals are so attractive.

"We're taking stuff that's already in nature, this waste biomass that's laying on farms or stuff that comes out of making beer or making coffee," said Ogilvie. "We're taking those agricultural residues and turning those things into very valuable petroleum-replacing chemicals."

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The market for Blue Marble products is bright, Ogilvie said, because the industry is looking for petroleum replacements.

Ogilvie said the market will continue to grow as people become more educated on the health effects of using petroleum-based products.

The Missoula facility currently employs a staff of seven and plans to produce 72 tons of chemicals a year. The company expects to hire more employees as it grows. Ogilvie said Blue Marble has an initial goal of hiring 25 people.

Plans are also in the works for making the Missoula facility energy self-sufficient. This will be accomplished by powering the facility with natural gas and biomass left over from the processing of agricultural waste.

"So coming out of this facility, you're going to have no waste, whereas traditionally you have a lot of waste coming out of chemical refining," said Ogilvie.

Ogilvie said there are many reasons why Blue Marble chose to expand into Montana. The primary ones being a high quality of life and lower business operating costs. He also said Montana's lower tax and regulatory burdens were a major plus.

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Blue Marble has been impressed by the state government's efforts to bring the biotech startup to Montana and help it succeed.

"That makes a difference for a startup small business like ours," said Ogilvie.

Blue Marble has plans for further expansion of its Missoula facility through a relationship it's building with one of the world's largest brewing companies.

Ogilvie declined to name the brewer, but said the partnership will help Blue Marble grow its technology and could possibly result in the hiring of 80 employees in Missoula.

Blue Marble is excited to be in Missoula and is looking forward to what lies ahead, he said.

"Our plan is to grow," said Ogilvie. "We want to call Montana home and we want this to be the launching platform for global expansion for our company."

Intern reporter Mark Boatman can be reached at (406) 544-0138, mark.boatman@umontana.edu or at mark.boatman@missoulian.com.

 

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