Ohio native Ryan Powell has utilized the state of Maryland for a first-rate education, an innovative start-up business, a groundbreaking technology patent, and now a massive expansion from what was once just an idea.
Powell and his business partner Onur Unal are the founders of Manta Biofuel, a Baltimore-based biotechnology firm producing renewable crude oil through the harvesting and processing of algae. Just two and a half years ago, Powell was researching the technology. Now, he is preparing his staff of 10 to move to their first permanent office space in Owings Mills.
Simply put, Manta Biofuel grows algae at multiple sites around the state before harvesting the crop with Powell's automated harvesters, and then converts the algae to oil through intense temperature and pressure in a process called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL).
"We have 15 acres in Thurmont that we're growing algae on and one acre produces about 30 barrels of biofuel," Powell said.
The end result is a sustainable source of oil that is carbon-neutral to produce and equivalent to petroleum. The only catch is that it requires massive amounts of fuel to begin selling to refineries, which is why Powell has continued to expand the business since discovering the harvesting technology as a doctorate student at the University of Maryland's Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET).
"The new office space will be our first indoor location where we can develop and manufacture equipment independent of weather conditions," Powell said. "We expect to begin our first sales this year, selling the product as a renewable source for heating oil."
What makes Manta unique from other Maryland-based businesses is that it requires a range of locations, from rural farming sites like Thurmont for algae cultivation, to urban factory space to develop and manufacture equipment.
In 2015, Maryland Commerce hosted the third annual InvestMaryland Challenge, an early-state business competition geared towards defense, IT, and life science companies. Manta was selected the winning company for two different prizes – the Bethesda Green Incubator Award and the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship Affiliated Services Award.
"The InvestMaryland Challenge gave us exposure that led to the contacts that make the business what it is today," Powell said. "We've been able to use space like the Bethesda Green Incubator because of the coverage the contest provided."
In the short-term, Powell hopes to make his product competitive with traditional fuels by producing at 20 dollars a barrel. But the sky is the limit for Manta's future in algal biofuel.
"We ultimately want to produce enough product at a competitive price that we can sell to refineries and provide an accessible, renewable source of oil for all the potential uses," Powell said.
For more information about Manta Biofuel's work visit mantabiofuel.com.