Think about all of the food that ends up in your household trash or down your garbage disposal. Now imagine the vast amount of food waste like coffee grounds or tomato pomace generated by big food manufacturers.
From seeds and stems to grains and fibers, these manufacturers are generating tremendous volumes of food waste every day. Manufacturers have learned that they can recycle, reuse, and compost some organic waste, but it costs money to store and transport it.
In other words, going green isn’t exactly a financial boon.
Until now, that is.
Thanks to advances in biotechnology, organic biomass waste can now be transformed into natural versions of valuable specialty chemicals used as flavorings, fragrances, and colorings, replacing the petroleum-based chemicals that are currently found in over 95% of everyday products.
Consumers are demanding an alternative to petroleum-derived chemicals. This cry has created a desperate need for manufacturers to satisfy the requirement, making naturally-derived chemicals an incredibly lucrative industry.
“Chemicals have traditionally been made through non-eco-friendly processes that are anything but natural—in fact, they’re typically derived from petroleum,” said James Stephens, co-founder, and president of Blue Marble Biomaterials, which manufactures all-natural biochemicals. “Blue Marble has developed and deployed technologies that produce drop-in replacements that are kosher, vegan, certified GMO-free, and compliant with stringent U.S. and E.U. labeling standards.”
So how exactly does this technology work? Let’s explore in more detail exactly how businesses are converting their biomass waste to valuable specialty biochemicals to reap big profits:
Bacteria break down organic waste into commercially valuable natural chemicals
At the heart of the biotech advances that have enabled this breakthrough is bacteria. Scientists have figured out how to use certain types of bacteria from nature under certain controlled conditions to break down organic waste and transform it into highly desired portfolios of natural chemicals, including esters, carboxylic acids, thioesters, and sulfur compounds. These specialty biochemicals are used as flavoring agents for foods, to add color to beverages like soda pop, to give texture to your granola bar, and so forth.
Scientists are learning how to use bacteria to produce more and more specialty biochemicals
Each specialty biochemical produced from organic waste is made by feeding certain types of raw materials to certain types of bacteria. For example, Blue Marble Biomaterials this year created an all-natural, vegan bacon flavoring by repurposing organic waste like coffee grounds and the discarded skin, pulp, seeds, and stems of tomatoes and grapes. “It’s the flavor and aroma of bacon—from plants,” as Colby Underwood, Blue Marble co-CEO, and chief business officer puts it. All of these biochemical creations are the result of years of research and testing; the production processes are patented and top-secret.
Biochemical startups are teaming up with companies that produce lots of organic waste
Any industry that produces large sums of organic waste–including the agriculture, food, beverage, and forestry industry–is a great candidate to team up with a waste-to-value company like Blue Marble. Blue Marble can embed its operations inside the facilities of existing food and beverage companies. Through this mutually beneficial arrangement, Blue Marble is able to maintain future access to a consistent supply of raw materials, which are converted on site. The final specialty biochemical products can be sold for top dollar.
The market for natural biochemicals is exploding
Chemicals are traditionally produced by large corporations like Dow Chemical, where they’re derived from petroleum. These so-called “petrochemicals” end up in an endless supply of consumer goods, from chewing gum to dog food to skin creams to clothes. However, as consumers increasingly demand natural products and to know the sourcing of the materials that make up these products, petrochemicals just can’t cut it. By contrast, biochemicals made from all-natural bacterial processes are organic and can be fully sourced. Hence, the demand for these chemicals is exploding.
These processes are eco-friendly
Not only are the end-product specialty chemicals all-natural, but the processes used to make them are eco-friendly as well. Biochemicals made from organic waste are produced using “green chemistry” processes. These processes provide a sustainable alternative to traditional chemical manufacturing, as they reduce environmental pollution and curb the production and use of hazardous substances.
As the demand for eco-friendly, all-natural chemicals explodes, more and more businesses are realizing there’s untapped monetary value in their organic waste. The natural alternatives to commonly petroleum-derived chemicals are made from this waste, and they are kosher, vegan, organic, certified GMO-free, and compliant with stringent international labeling standards for natural products.
But this isn’t the end. Scientists are developing new pathways and technologies orbiting around how to harness the power of bacteria to produce more and more types of these lucrative biochemicals.
In other words, natural bacon flavoring isn’t the only product that will be affected. It is only one of millions of products that will be transformed by switching from environmentally-damaging chemicals derived from crude oil to natural, sustainable versions of these chemicals that have a positive impact on our planet–and our livelihood.