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Tuscaloosa’s Inventure Is Changing the Way We Look at Waste
by William Thornton (AL.com) In a non-descript 40,000-square-foot building not far from the popular Tuscaloosa restaurant Waysider, a group of chemists and engineers are finding uses for the world's industrial food-related waste.
Inventure is making industry around the world rethink what they're throwing away, and in the process finding ways to monetize it.
All of this comes from a staff of less than 40 employees, most of them packing PhDs and masters degrees from the University of Alabama. In its decade in business, the company is responsible for 16 patents and has another 45 pending.
Inventure was started in Washington State about 10 years ago and moved to Alabama in 2009, and now has an office as far away as Malaysia.
The company's story involves stuff you probably haven't even thought about. Inventure looked at the waste produced by vegetable oil refining, which was being treated and added to animal feed.
The company discovered a way to take the waste and produce a bio-diesel fuel, as well as distill Vitamin E from it. That technology is now being put into use at a $50 million distillation plant in Taizhou, China.
The process of coming up with cost-effective renewable alternatives to waste products can take about two years, Brown said. In some cases, the team looks at samples of industrial waste products, determining what materials and chemicals are there. The next step is figuring out what can be harvested.
Next, the chemists and engineers put their heads together to figure out how to do it, both inexpensively and responsibly.
"The engineering can take some time," Brown (John Brown, Inventure's chief operating officer) said. "Then there's the economics of it, and then turning it into a defined product."
Anywhere from 200 to 300 different studies may be going on at once, Brown said. READ MORE