Missoula Company Finds Way to Produce Key Chemical

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A former University of Montana chemistry professor says he and other scientists have discovered a way to cheaply produce large volumes of an environment-friendly chemical that has wide applications.

Don Kiely said the new technique means biodegradable glucaric acid can be produced in large enough quantities to make it feasible.

He said glucaric acid can be converted into high-value, bio-based chemicals to be used for such things as road salt and detergents. That means glucaric acid products could replace petrochemicals and phosphates that can last for centuries and harm the environment.

“We all have a chance to save the world bit by bit,” said Kiely, 71. “Our contribution to that would be improving water quality. So many harmful chemical products end up in our groundwater and are our major pollutants. But we think we are onto something that could change that.”

Kiely and his team have started a business called Rivertop Renewables to produce glucaric acid.

“It’s cheap because it’s made from the most renewable carbohydrate there is — simple plant sugar,” Kiely said. “In our case, the source is corn syrup, but it could eventually come from a variety of sources.”

Mike Kadas, Rivertop’s president and chief operating officer, said investor negotiations are taking place for the technique that Kadas said has a huge potential.

“We are at a very exciting stage of the company,” said Kadas, the former mayor of Missoula. “It is exciting to be in on the business side of something that has potential to have huge impact on the local and global scale.”

Kiely said scientists have known for a long time that glucaric acid is a benign alternative to other products that can harm the environment. But scientists have been stumped for years on how to produce glucaric acid on a large enough scale to make it feasible.

Kiely said he and his research team of Tyler Smith, Kylie Presta and Kirk Hash have developed a patent-pending process that does just that.

“We’ve discovered how to refine that process and consistently and reliably duplicate the product over and over again,” Kiely said.

Jason Kiely, the company’s director of marketing and Don Kiely’s son, said the process will allow much greater amounts to be produced.

“We have the technology to go from two liters to 2,000 gallons of glucaric acid,” he said.