Rivertop rides the wave

When University of Montana chemistry professor Don Kiely founded Missoula's Rivertop Renewables in 2008, he ambitiously hired on a handful of environmentally minded scientists, along with some heavy hitters from the business world.

"I knew right out of the gate that we had to shoot to build a really big company," Kiely says.

Two years later, Kiely, now retired from UM, is getting closer to fulfilling that vision. In fact, the Missoula City Council this week unanimously provided a critical endorsement of the company's bid to secure a $202,500 grant from the state-sponsored Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, which is designed to aid job growth.

"I think Rivertop Renewables is the most exciting project going on in Montana right now," says Jessica Allred-Meyers of the Missoula Area Economic Development Council, which has been working with the company to secure the grant. "It's pretty exciting."

It's exciting because Kiely is doing groundbreaking work in what he's dubbed "progressive chemistry." Before retiring from UM in 2008, the chemist developed a method to inexpensively take plant sugars and convert them into massive quantities of the biodegradable chemical glucarate. The biodegradable chemical is capable of replacing environmentally harmful minerals and petroleum-based compounds used to manufacture commercial and industrial products like road deicer and laundry detergent, thereby potentially reducing contamination in ground water and local streams.

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"The basic premise, from my point of view, is that we have technology that can be useful and environmentally advantageous," Kiely says.

Rivertop currently employs 11 people, including COO Mike Kadas, Missoula's former mayor. Anticipating new revenue streams—the company will find out by the end of the year if it's received the Big Sky grant—Kadas says the company plans on hiring 27 new employees during the coming months.

"We expect to double, actually triple our size within the next two years," Kadas says.

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