Have you ever driven down Pratt Street and wondered what was in that big building with the white sail-like tent? That building, the Columbus Center, is home to the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) where students and scientists are doing some amazing research. IMET is a partnership of several University of Maryland System schools including the University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and University of Maryland, Baltimore.
IMET has added an incubator to support commercialization of the research being conducted in the center. One of the companies that has formed out of the new incubator is Manta BioFuel founded by Ryan Powell. We recently sat down with Ryan to learn more about his company- an excerpt from our conversation is below.
EAGB: Tell us about Manta Biofuel
RP: Manta Biofuel is a Maryland-based startup company that produces renewable crude oil. Our company has developed a method to farm crude oil instead of drilling for it. This oil can be used as a direct replacement for traditional fossil crude oil. Just like fossil crude oil, it can be distilled into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and fuel oil. However, unlike fossil crude oil our product is renewable and carbon neutral. As long as the sun is still shining we will continue to be able to produce our fuel.
EAGB: How is your biofuel different from that made by other companies?
RP: I think the biggest difference in what we are doing is more in the production method than in the actual fuel product. Other companies are working on very similar types of end-fuel products. What we are doing differently is focusing from the start on making our system as simple and as economic as possible. Unless a biofuel production system is profitable and simple enough to scale it will not make an impact in the fuels space.
EAGB: How has your location in Maryland been helpful to you as you developed your company?
RP: The various institutions in Maryland have been extremely helpful in getting our company off of the ground. We have received grant funding through TEDCO, convertible debt through the Department of Natural Resources and MTech, and leveraged R&D funding through MIPS. IMET has provided entrepreneurship training, salary support and seed capital through their Ratcliffe Environmental Entrepreneurship Fellowship program.
These programs have allowed us to make progress in product development and to build value in the company before we take professional investment. The programs have also provided us access to experienced mentors who have gone through the startup process before. These mentors have been invaluable to the company. Their experience has helped us avoid common errors made by founders when setting up a company.
EAGB: In what ways do you envision Manta Biofuel impacting the Maryland economy? How can it help rural communities throughout the country?
RP: Our goal is to bring our process to the farmers in Maryland. This will give farmers an additional option to generate revenue from their land and allow them to utilize parts of their land that are currently unproductive, such as areas with poor drainage. As someone who grew up on a farm, I really want to help these communities thrive. Rural communities have been hit hard by the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs and also by decreased margins on farms. Even though farms are more productive than ever, the individual farmer is taking home less money per acre. As a company we would like to help remedy this situation by providing farmers a system that will return more dollars per acre with less labor input on their part. This will bring more dollars back to rural communities.