Around the Bend

What's going on at Rivertop Renewables


At the Bench

New Corrosion Lab Gets Results

Rivertop has made some compelling discoveries about the performance of Waterline™ CI since the Company ramped up its newest corrosion testing lab earlier this year. We have found that our new, phosphorous-free corrosion inhibitor ingredient protects the critical steel infrastructure in industrial and commercial cooling water systems under an array of challenging conditions. Initial performance evaluations were recently described in a press release and detailed on the product’s webpage.

As with most application development and evaluation, Rivertop is driving a lot of time, expertise and creativity into profiling the performance of Waterline CI as an ingredient in water treatment chemical formulations. What’s different with this development effort has been the speed at which the team has made discoveries. Our Industrial Applications Manager, Eric Ward, only joined the Company in November; by January, he had the lab outfitted. He assembled an array of rapid testing equipment and quickly trained a team of very capable technicians.

The lab is outfitted with electrochemical cells that provide a continuous flow of data points on the corrosiveness of the water treated with formulations containing Waterline CI versus water treated with phosphorous-based formulations. The water is continually oxygenated and circulated to mimic the turbidity of a cooling water system. A digital titrator is used to confirm water hardness as the techs “cycle up” the concentration of hard water ions and detect any calcium precipitation that may occur. The cells themselves are jacketed to enable the team to control the water temperature at the higher levels found in true cooling water systems. A pump is outfitted to feed biocides into the water, another critical component of water treatment formulations. And a colorimeter is used to measure the level of inorganics in the water, such as free- and total chlorine and ortho-phosphate.

The research flowing out of this lab enables Eric and his commercial counterparts to advise customers on the capabilities and best uses of the product. The team expects to release the next Waterline CI Technical Bulletin in June. Stay tuned for what discoveries may emerge in that publication.

The Business Case for Safer Chemistry

A new report from the American Sustainable Business Council forecasts the significant growth potential and other financial benefits of safer chemicals. For example, the market for safer chemicals is estimated to have 24 times the growth of conventional chemicals market worldwide, from 2011 to 2020. And job growth in safer goods and services is well ahead of conventional chemical industry.

The report noted the significant market opportunity: “The global market for “green chemistry”—as defined by Pike Research to include biobased chemicals, renewable feedstocks, “green” polymers and less-toxic chemical formulations—has been projected to grow from $11 billion in 2015 to nearly $100 billion by 2020. The North American market for “green chemistry” is projected to grow from $3 billion to over $20 billion during the same period.”

Of particular interest to us was one of the report’s observations: “The potential for innovation may lie specialty chemicals, relatively niche chemical formulators and small businesses, which can serve the growing demand through their nature as test beds for problem-solving and their often mission-driven approach to product and service development.”

At Rivertop, we absolutely believe that companies like ours can play a leading role not just in creating new chemicals — but safer and more sustainable options that unlock new opportunities for our customers and partners. We believe, working together, we can blend innovation with the global reach of established players and make a bigger impact.

Jason Kiely’s Rivertop Milestone

A lot has changed since Rivertop’s inception in 2008, but one key component has remained the same: Jason Kiely. Jason, now Business Manager of Industrial Applications, played a critical role in Rivertop’s founding and our subsequent start-up phase. His leadership helped build our early market intelligence, develop our corporate and product brands, and establish a market foothold for Rivertop’s first innovations. We are thus taking advantage of the 8thanniversary of Rivertop Renewables to highlight the 8th anniversary at Rivertop for one of our key players.

Jason’s role has certainly evolved over the years. Today his focus is on expanding sales of Rivertop’s Waterline™ CIcorrosion inhibitors into the water treatment market. He also leads the cross-functional commercial and technical team that develops, sells and manages Rivertop’s Headwaters® corrosion inhibitors for the road deicing market. Notably, he was instrumental in helping his father, Dr. Don Kiely, found the company and played a key role in raising the company’s Series A financing from friends, family, angels and smaller institutional investors.

Jason has been a part of many Rivertop milestones—we have been quite busy since 2008. When asked what his favorite celebration has been, he understandably had trouble choosing between all of them. He pointed out that commercial successes for Headwaters® and Waterline™ have certainly been fun to celebrate, but also remembered the excitement of clinking glasses with key advisors and supporters in the early days. Or perhaps the fall evening in his backyard punctuated by games of corn hole and roasting/toasting a departing colleague…

Jason certainly hasn’t been coasting off the pitch: his second child was born the same summer that Rivertop starting coming together. He has loved the challenge of raising kids, building a company and nurturing a marriage. Somehow he has also found time to strengthen his yoga practice, learn how to downhill ski and take up big game hunting. As he explains it, exercise and play have proven essential to his happiness and productivity.

Productivity is perhaps an understatement for what Jason has accomplished since he has been at Rivertop. What piece of advice would he give himself on his first day eight years ago? “It’s gonna be a long race, punctuated by frequent sprints. So look for—and enjoy—the times you get to run downhill. And run like hell when you do!”

We very much appreciate all of the running you’ve done, Jason, and are excited to reach the many milestones your leadership will bring over the next eight years!

Establishing the Future of Green Chemistry

Sustainability is a core tenet of our work here at Rivertop. Our science and processes create a sustainable supply of bio-based products that are economically and environmentally attractive to consumers and industry by unlocking the potential of plant sugars. In our activities, we fully adhere to the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry, guidelines widely accepted by the green chemistry industry as its core pillars. Yet these principles are less than 20 years old, and green chemistry is arguably still in its youth.

When the modern environmental movement began in the 1960s and 1970s, the focus was largely on protecting humans and the environment from harmful substances. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded in 1970 and promptly banned chemical pesticides (such as DDT), followed by a variety of activities aimed at stemming pollution and cleaning up toxins. It wasn’t really until the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 that the paradigm started shifting towards prevention, opening up opportunities for innovation in what was later to be known as the ‘green chemistry’ space.

That got the ball rolling: the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards were established in 1995, the Green Chemistry Institute in 1997 and Green Chemistry, Theory and Practice was published in 1998, containing the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry.

While the green chemistry industry has since expanded and made its mark in many facets, it has a long way to go. A vast majority of organic chemicals are still derived from petroleum. Chemistry, as a result, is largely perceived negatively, associated more regularly with pollution and DDT than with sustainability.

Green chemistry has the tools to change that perception: according to a recently released study by BBC Research, the green chemistry industry is expected to grow to a market of $85.6 billion by 2020, with future prospects as high as $1.5 trillion. Innovation and demand from consumers for ‘green’ products are establishing a bright future for the industry. Nonetheless, a recent Chemical Watch article points out that in order to solidify its foothold, green chemistry has to make its way into education as well.

We here at Rivertop commend the inroads the industry has already made and are proud to be a part of it. In our eyes, the first key pillar for the future of green chemistry is innovative, economically competitive products. The second key pillar is hands-on education. And the third is societal recognition. But if we execute well on the first two, the last one will be sure to follow. And on that note, back to work!

Rivertop Exceeds Nameplate Capacity

Last week, Rivertop officially announcedthat we have exceeded nameplate capacity at our first commercial production facility during benchmark testing. The facility, which in located in Danville, Virginia, was built in the first half of 2015, began its first commercial production runs of glucarate-based products in August 2015 and is now capable of producing more than 9 million dry pounds of sodium glucarate product per year—more than 15 percent higher than original design projections.

Among the products being produced are Riose® detergent builder (a renewable, effective alternative to phosphate detergent builders) and WaterlineTMcorrosion inhibitors and chelating agents that are applicable across industries ranging from water treatment, to power generation and mining.

The first products produced at the facility are salts of glucaric acid. Traditional pathways of producing both glucaric acid itself and its salts have been costly and environmentally challenging, making Rivertop’s ability to produce an effective, economical and environmentally friendly supply that much more ground breaking.

This production success comes on the heels of a “Recommended” designation based on a quality and supply chain audit by a leading water treatment industry customer.

In other words, we are full steam ahead. The success we are having thus far bodes very well for our plans to build additional plants in the coming years.

We are also excited that our success has been featured in a number of industry publications, including KPAXBiofuels DigestChemical & Engineering NewsBiomass Magazine and Green Chemicals Blog. The latter feature is in fact a guest post by our own CEO, Mike Knauf, about the role of oxygen in our proprietary manufacturing process, punctuated by the exciting news about our facility in Virginia. It is the perfect excuse for a little pat on the back before diving back in to the work we love.

Big Idea Country

Earlier this year, Rivertop Renewables was honored to host Montana Governor Steve Bullock for the unveiling of the Montana Business Navigator website, an online tool intended to streamline the process of starting a new business in Montana. The Governor placed a strong emphasis on Montana’s great potential for both early stage companies and business more generally. As the Governor indicated, Montana is looking to help great businesses succeed in its borders.

This message has been echoed in a recent video released by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The video features the many statistics that make Montana attractive for business (#1 for highest educated adults, #1 in increasing college graduates, #5 in cost of labor) side-by-side with a variety of business giants in Montana explaining why they chose the state. Rivertop is excited to have been included among them (with some cool shots from our labs).

We couldn’t agree more that Montana is a great place for business: it is thriving economically and has a notably high quality of life. We have found it to be a great base for conducting our research and developing markets for our sustainable chemistry. As we like to say, it is ‘big idea country’: inspiring us through its natural beauty and its great opportunities.

Sending Off an Honorary Rivertopian

Last week, Rivertop sent off Eric Black, a Bio-Products Commercial Manager at Cargill and beloved Rivertop Board Observer, in style. Eric’s role at Cargill has recently changed and, as a result, he we will no longer be attending board meetings and working with the Rivertop team. Over the course of his service as Board Observer, Eric has become an honorary Rivertop team member and we thought the best way to show our appreciation would be a truly Montana-appropriate gift: a bear hat.

Shortly after Eric began frequenting Missoula he saw a newscast featuring a black bear cub found in a local neighborhood tree. This led to many discussions about how Missoulians deal with living so close to nature, followed by a proper education in how to apply bear-spray (not like bug spray as Eric originally thought!).

Eric will certainly be sorely missed, but has promised to visit and go hiking with the Rivertop team, armed appropriately with bear spray and maybe even wearing his new hat!

The ‘Green’ Debate (?)

A recent Huffington Post blog post argues that, contrary to popular belief, consumers are in fact biased against ‘green’ products. This disposition, the author points out, is a result of the perception that most sustainable products come with higher costs and lower quality. The post concludes that companies with sustainable products should take the ‘green’ part of their product out of the limelight and should focus instead on the product itself.

The fact that the conversation is now about how to position sustainability instead of whether or not it is necessary, is a major step forward for the future of consumer goods. Further, it provides good all-around advice for businesses: ensuring performance and reducing cost should be key pillars when producing any product. We here at Rivertop couldn’t agree more.

We do take slight issue with the author’s conclusion: “Green products will have really succeeded when consumers are buying them without even knowing they choose the more sustainable option!”

Studies have shown that sustainability branding actually increases sales, making it a key and justifiable marketing tactic for the many companies that have successfully mastered the quality, cost and sustainability trifecta. More directly, all other things being equal, sustainability is a key differentiator for more and more consumers around the world.

Further, being green is usually a key strategic pillar of companies with sustainable products: it would be in many ways disingenuous to ask them to mask a key aspect of their mandate.

Rivertop Renewables is taking an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to cost, performance and sustainability. While we ensure that our products compete on quality and value, we won’t ever walk away from our commitment to sustainability. It’s what we’re founded on and it’s a reason our customers choose us. They know they can improve their products and meet the needs of their customers through sustainable, non-toxic and biodegradable chemicals that meet bottom-line metrics as well.

Rivertop Ranks Among 50 Hottest Companies in Advanced Bioeconomy

We have reason to break out the champagne: Rivertop has been named the 34th hottest company in advanced bioeconomy. The Hot 50 list is published annually by Biofuels Digest, the world’s most widely read biofuels and bio-based chemicals daily publication, and recognizes innovation and achievement in companies across the bioeconomy spectrum.

While we are bragging, we would like to add that Rivertop ranked #7 on the Digest’s Hot 40 list (featuring small companies in advanced bioeconomy) at the end of last year and that our own CEO, Mike Knauf, was recognized among the top 100 people in advanced bioeconomy in 2016. (We’re done for now).

For all of these lists, rankings are determined by votes from an invited panel of distinguished international selectors (50 percent) and from subscribers of The Digest (50 percent).

These awards come on the heels of a very successful 2015 (ok we’re bragging again), in which we opened our first commercial-scale production facility and experienced significant growth in both production and sales.

We are now excited to set our sights on an equally if not more successful 2016. Cheers to many great Rivertop milestones ahead!

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