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Rivertop additive

Jack May, Montana Department of Transportation maintenance chief of the Missoula area, walks around tanks west of town in December 2011. The tanks contain a mixture of de-icer salt brine and Rivertop Renewables' "Headwaters," which helps thwart corrosion caused by the brine. Missoula-based Rivertop was recently awarded a $400,000 contract from MDT to use Headwaters on Montana roads this winter.

Rivertop Renewables is another step closer to taking its groundbreaking biochemical products to large, commercial markets.

In February, several big batches of the Missoula-based company’s products were cooked up in a high-tech plant in Virginia. That began a “pilot manufacturing” process that will allow Rivertop to meet the needs of its initial customers, and continue research into streamlining a production process that could be used to accommodate future demand.

“It’s a technology advance for us. It also has value in providing our first customers with large quantities of our product,” said Jason Kiely, the company’s vice president of marketing and administration.

DTI, a Virginia-based manufacturer of specialty chemical products, is producing the chemicals for Rivertop.

“Both teams worked tirelessly and collaboratively to meet an aggressive project timeline to transition the Rivertop technology from the lab to a manufacturing environment. This is an exciting time for the Rivertop team and we are positive the market will respond well to this new technology,” said Tim Condron, chief executive officer of DTI, in a news release from Rivertop.

Rivertop’s bio-products are made from simple plant sugars. The science used at Rivertop was developed at the University of Montana by Don Kiely, who invented the process of making environmentally neutral glucaric acid cheaply and in large volumes.

Kiely helped form Rivertop in 2009 to turn the science into viable commercial products, one of which is a replacement for phosphates in laundry detergents.

With this most recent advancement, the Rivertop products can be manufactured, labeled and shipped by DTI.

DTI has so far produced several batches of glucarate-based products, making around 850 pounds per run.

“All told, we’ll produce about 10 metric tons at this scale; that should be plenty for our needs now,” Kiely said.

But that capacity could increase to as much as 10 million pounds per year as the process is perfected and contracts for Rivertop products are secured.

Rivertop’s glucaric acid products are currently being tested by the detergent industry as a replacement for phosphates, which have been banned in most states due to their harsh effects on the environment.

The company’s bio-based corrosion inhibitor was used in de-icer this winter by the Montana Department of Transportation. The MDT contract represented Rivertop’s first product-based revenue. It will seek more inhibitor contracts with departments of transportation this year, Kiely said.

The products have also picqued the interest of oil and gas companies, which are exploring the use of Rivertop’s chemicals as non-polluting alternatives in those industries, Kiely said.

“That’s the magic of chemicals; a single molecule can have so many applications in so many markets,” Kiely said.

As the production process and market exploration continues, so will Rivertop’s lab research.

Construction is under way to expand the company’s facilities at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center, or MonTEC, on East Broadway. The space is on schedule to be ready this fall, Kiely said.

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