Thoroughbred Carbon Sciences LLC

What does a University of Kentucky (UK) Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship (VACE) Bootcamp project, UK research and patents, two Chicago entrepreneurs, and bourbon have in common? Stillage.

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Robert A. Moore and Gary Cullen

By The Numbers

40 new patents

issued to UK in FY2017

$2.39 million

in gross royalty income in FY 2017

600+ worldwide patents

available for licensing with corporate & industry partners

117 licenses & options

active as of June 30, 2017

$3.75 million

in income distributed to inventors since 2010

$13.37 million

income distributed to colleges & departments since 2010

Featured Startup Throughbred Carbon Sciences LLC

Robert Moore and Gary Cullen


What does a University of Kentucky (UK) Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship (VACE) Bootcamp project, UK research and patents, two Chicago entrepreneurs, and bourbon have in common? Stillage.

Stillage is defined as the mash from alcoholic fermentation after removal of the alcohol in a still. It is waste from breweries and distilleries that is hard to dispose of. With the help of VACE’s Bootcamp, UK students developed a business model around a UK patented process to take bourbon stillage and produce high-quality activated carbons. This business model was used by the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) to recruit two entrepreneurs from Chicago and start the business.

Those two Chicago entrepreneurs are Robert A. Moore (Bob) and Gary Cullen. In Bob’s career, he has formed an investor group, served as the chief financial officer and then the chief executive officer for a technology company, and was a chief financial officer and managing director of a startup intellectual property licensing company. Gary was a partner at international law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and is now a private investor and entrepreneur.

Bob and Gary have known each other for 35 years and have been talking about partnering for four years when the stillage-to-activated-carbon business model was brought to their attention. Because disposal of stillage is expensive and a major issue for distilleries, they saw the potential. After meeting with inventor Dr. Steve Lipka on multiple trips to Lexington, together they started a company called Thoroughbred Carbon Sciences LLC (the Bootcamp project was previously called Stillage Solutions). Taking stillage and other feedstock and modifying based on UK’s patent-protected approach, the company can create carbons and market in several applications.

The bourbon industry is growing which will increase the amount of stillage that needs to be disposed of. Being able to take a waste and convert it into carbons is environmentally friendly, and helps since the industry is bracing for stricter environmental regulations. The carbons created from stillage can be used for water filtration, high energy storage devices (supercapacitors), fertilizer, black paint (used at horse farms), air filtration, dry lubricants, and in several automotive applications.

Since Bob and Gary started Thoroughbred Carbon Sciences LLC (TCS), they spend three-four days a week in Kentucky and have met with the University of Kentucky, distilleries, Governor Bevin and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development (CED), the Kentucky Distilleries Association (KDA), and companies that may have a use for the activated carbons produced by the technology. They have had many positive conversations and are excited about the next steps to making this a reality. They are working on building a pilot plant in Kentucky to serve as a model for several full-scale plants located at or near several distilleries.

According to Bob and Gary, it takes a lot of work to do a startup and you need to be ready for it. It is important to create a culture of working hard and smart and being focused.  In discussing this opportunity and the work it has taken to get it started, Bob said “working with Ian McClure and the OTC team has been terrific. They’ve been very business minded and incredibly responsive. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Thoroughbred Carbon Sciences LLC has a bright future in Kentucky and will bring something wasteful (stillage) into something useful (carbons) that can be utilized in many different applications.