A new biotech company in Corvallis, AGAE Technologies, makes ecofriendly products that may change the world by helping clean up contaminated sites and toxic waste dumps, simultaneously boosting yields from older oil wells.
Senior research scientist Xihou Yin, Ph.D., of Oregon State University’s College of Pharmacy, identified a strain of bacteria that produces molecules called rhamnolipid biosurfactants. These molecules have widespread applications, including removal of heavy metals from contaminated soils and recovering hardto- extract oil from mature wells. Rhamnolipids also offer biodegradable green solutions for cosmetics, shampoo and soaps, as well as organic food production and pharmaceuticals.
Yin, who came to OSU in 1997, and his team at AGAE (American Green Agricultural and Environmental) Technologies, were the first to work out an efficient and cost-effective process to produce highly purified rhamnolipids in large quantities. This had eluded researchers worldwide since 1949, when rhamnolipids were originally discovered. Researchers have long sought a safe, nontoxic and biodegradable alternative to the harsh chemical surfactants commonly found in household and industrial products.
In 2010, Yin and a team of scientists from his native China published findings on novel rhamnolipid biosurfactants in the journal, Biotechnology Advances. OSU has applied for a patent, and AGAE Technologies obtained an exclusive license to use the strain for commercial rhamnolipid production. AGAE began its own R&D and business operations in May, 2011.
The company has a production facility in Corvallis and employs six people. Although young, AGAE has earned a solid reputation among U.S. and international customers for high quality, pure rhamnolipids and is currently partnering with leading domestic environmental remediation companies to clean up difficult and persistent contaminants at polluted sites.
“I’m always thinking about ways to apply green technologies to real world problems for the benefit of people and the environment,” he says. “The sky is the limit.”