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Botanical Birch: Treatment from Trees

Pellets University of Minnesota Duluth
The raw material, birch bark (left) gets separated into the paper bark and the inner bark. Each has valuable but different qualities. Then the material is condensed into pellets for cheaper and more efficient shipping and handling.

Brian Garhofer’s business, The Actives Factory, will realize significant revenues this year, thanks in part to over 15 years of birch bark extract research by Pavel Krasutsky at the UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI).

The Actives Factory, based in Two Harbors, Minn., takes raw birch bark, pelletizes it for shipping, and then extracts naturally occurring chemicals which can be used as is or synthesized into high potency chemicals. These products are provided to pharmaceutical, cosmetic, industrial, and nutritional supplement companies.

At the factory, the first step is to separate the paper bark from the inner bark. Each have distinctly valuable properties. The paper bark is then pelletized for easy shipping and handling to the chemical processing facilities.

“We had revenues of about $20,000 last year but this year has seen significant growth through a couple of key industries,” Garhofer said. “I believe in the product and I knew we would get this far, but I’m surprised our sales have gotten so high, so fast."

The success is due to the remarkable results these compounds have exhibited in certain applications. Customers are looking for a reliable, high quality source of these compounds. “Having 15 years of research, significant intellectual property, and proven commercial scale production behind us puts us in a very good position to meet the customer’s needs.”  

Garhofer also sells the extract to companies which currently manufacture beauty and health products already on the market, including lotions, soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. Birch bark contains three valuable compounds: betulin, lupeol, and betulinic acid. All exhibit anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, treat fungal and bacterial infections, stimulate the immune system, and more.

Cultures around the world have used the birch tree for healing for thousands of years. “We are in awe of the birch tree,” said Garhofer. “The powerful elements it contains are utterly amazing, which is why we will never look at a birch forest the same again.”

Garhofer is producing a substance from a natural resource and he’s doing it with the environment in mind. All of the birch bark comes from a company that manages its birch forest in a sustainable manner. “By using bark which comes from sustainably harvested and managed forests, we can help our customers achieve their sustainability goals,” Garhofer said.

UMD will keep an eye on this company. As the full potential of birch compounds is tapped, tremendous growth is in its future.

Brian-Steve University of Minnesota Duluth inside the plant irch bark extract
Co-owners Steve Yanda and Brian Garhofer Inside the birch bark pelletizing plant Birch bark extract powder

For nearly two decades, Pavel Krasutsky, director of the Chemical Extractives Program at NRRI, has worked to transform a chemical concept into a full scale, manufacturing process.

It started in 1996 with the idea of developing ways to extract precious chemicals from birch bark for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial products and nutritional supplements. NRRI had the unique applied research mission to make the most of Minnesota’s natural resource. Krasutsky felt it should have a lab that extracts the value from birch bark – a waste byproduct of the paper industry. With NRRI Director Mike Lalich as a champion for the cause, the University of Minnesota provided funding to build and staff a lab at NRRI specifically for chemical extraction.

Krasutsky's unique background and skills made him perfect for the job. Krasutsky is known around the world for his ability to take a chemical laboratory process and turn it into a profitable commercial endeavor. He served as director of the Industrial Research Laboratory for Forestry-Raw Materials, in Kiev, Ukraine, and he worked on plant protection chemistry with the manufacturing firms Rousell Uclaf, Co. in France and Hoechst-Aventis Crop Science, Co. in Germany. See more...

Krasutsky and the Path from the Lab to Industry

Learn more about The Actives Factory

by Cheryl Reitan, October 2014

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