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Clean Blue Technologies

Clean Blue Technologies: From Waste to Fuel

Given that he survived a tornado that destroyed his family’s home in High Point in 2010 and a major heart attack in 2012, you might think John Blair would be focused on the here and now.

Instead, with infectious enthusiasm, he talks about his new company and its impact on future generations.

Clean Blue Technologies, based in Biotech Place at Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, has developed a thermochemical refining system that takes waste plastic, biomedical waste and rigid plastics and converts them into biodiesel fuel, synthetic gas and carbon black.

The technology builds upon existing technologies used by thermochemical plants overseas that produce power from trash. Blair had seen the plants back in the mid-1990s when he began to travel there as part of his job in the furniture industry. Coincidentally, the technology of gasification was used by R.J. Reynolds decades ago, and images of old chambers where coal was superheated to create power (and used to power gas lights in downtown Winston-Salem, in addition to the buildings) line the hallway outside of Clean Blue’s office.

One of the keys that will allow Clean Blue’s technology to be used in this country was developing a way to capture air emissions, which would be subject to Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

Blair, a mechanical engineer by training who spent most of his career in the furniture industry, said the idea to prevent emissions came to him as he recovered from his heart attack and thought about the processes used to clean cholesterol from his body. He devised components that could make his idea work and successfully built a model in China, working with the manufacturing connections he had there.

As a result, Clean Blue will soon be looking to partner with municipalities that agree to remove certain plastics from their landfill waste, send them to a plant and buy the biodiesel fuel that is a byproduct of the refining process. The Clean Blue plants will be powered by electricity created from the operation and air emissions will be virtually nil, all part of the company’s mission to give back to the environment.

“If we can look five, six, seven generations down the road, I want to know that we are making a positive impact on those generations,’’ Blair said.

Clean Blue Technologies Is Small Enough to Succeed

Blair, the president and founder of Clean Blue, is working with Val Apple, CEO and business manager, to develop municipal clients who will agree to use the scaled plants envisioned for the venture.

Their goal is to establish a series of plants—each would employ about 40 people—to process certain plastics. The company would also collect some plastics directly from clients who want to dispose of post-industrial plastic waste.

Clean Blue works with the less desirable and unable-to-be-reused higher numbered plastics, which typically wind up in landfills. Larger companies already contract with municipalities to take the more popular recyclable plastics; Blair said Clean Blue is happy to only take the other plastics because it wants to stay manageable initially. He hopes the first plant could be operating somewhere in North Carolina in 2014.

Clean Blue will design and build its plants using modular component equipment; it already has produced working models in China, where Blair had connections through his work in the furniture industry.

Municipalities would realize tax benefits from being able to use the diesel fuel created in the process as well as having more available space in landfills, while Clean Blue’s profits would come from the sale of the three products produced through conversion: biodiesel fuel, synthetic gas and carbon black.

Apple, who also spent 20 years in the furniture business in High Point in parts and accessories, said Clean Blue’s pro-environment process is a perfect match for many companies generating plastic wastes.

“We can certainly help them come out of the woodwork and do this right,’’ he said.