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Sault firm capitalizes on certainty of spills.

Sault firm capitalizes on certainty of spills

A Sault Ste. Marie company is Canada's first producer of a powerful oil spill cleanup agent that has industrial uses and can help deal with disasters such as the massive oil slick in the Persian Gulf.

"Our business in some cases relies on accidents happening, but accidents do happen, said Gene Farquhar, vice-president and founder of Spill Tech Industries Inc. The company, incorporated in 1989, manufactures a sorbent that can absorb 20 to 25 times its weight in spilled oil or other industrial liquids.

The spill in the Persian Gulf is about 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, according to Farquhar.

"They will use massive amounts of sorbents. They will probably try just about everything they can," he said.

There is a good chance that, being a Canadian company, Spill Tech will be invited to bid on a contract to aid international cleanup efforts.

Despite the promising market in emergency spill response, (the federal government projects that Canada can expect at least one major spill every year), Farquhar is relying on the more stable demand for sorbents in routine industrial applications.

Part IX of Ontario's Environmental Protection Act holds the discharger responsible for dealing with spills. Any spill likely to cause damage to the environment or personal property, or to interfere with the normal conduct of business must be reported. Provincial enforcement officers are empowered to lay charges if a discharger violates the law.

"It used to be that you would just go out the back door and dump it. But now 20-year-old mistakes are coming back to give us problems," says Farquhar.

Spill Tech is the only company in Canada that produces non-woven, highloft polypropylene fibre specifically for oil spill recovery. The product, which looks like a thin felt pad, attracts hydrocarbon compounds such as oil and gas to millions of minute fibres.

What makes Spill Tech unique in Canada is that it will "blow" its own polypropylene, allowing it to make more cost-effective targeted products. All of the company's competitors base their products on imported, semi-processed material.

The company started operations on Nov. 15. It produces two products, Spill Klean and Machine Guard.

Spill Klean is an adsorbent designed to clean up oil and chemical spills from, in or on water. It will be marketed to fire departments, coast guards and emergency response contractors.

Machine Guard is an adsorbent designed to clean up aqueous spills as well as oil and chemical ones. It will be marketed to industries, utilities and businesses.

Most factories in Canada use clay sorbents to deal with spills on shop floors. Stelco, the Hamilton-based steel producer, uses 28,000 40-pound bags of clay sorbent per year.

According to Farquhar, a company that requires 10 truck loads of clay would need only one truck load of his lightweight polypropylene sorbent. And clay is abrasive to equipment and difficult to clean from floors.

"It's getting much harder to dispose of contaminated material. Clay has to go to the landfill," Farquhar said.

The advantage of Spill Tech's product is that it is reusable. Oil may be wrung out and the sorbent reused several times. Old oil is easily stored in drums and periodically transferred to an oil recycler.

Spill Tech competes with the giants of the non-woven industry - 3M, James River Corporation and Kimberly-Clark. These U.S. firms mass-produce highloft materials for hundreds of uses, including carpeting, insulation, clothing and hygiene products.

Secondary businesses, which package and distribute oil sorbents, buy a fraction of the highloft raw material on the market. One of the largest oil sorbent producers is Sorbent Products Company Inc. of New Jersey.

Because the big suppliers like 3M receive a relatively low price for highloft materials in the sorbent market compared to larger markets such as fabrics, sorbent producers often encounter supply problems.

Spill Tech bypassed dependency on a supplier by installing its own equipment at the Sault plant. Its polypropylene extruder can produce 1,000 pounds per hour - twice the rate of the competition. Being specifically tailored to the oil sorbents market, the company can better meet customer needs.

One innovation it has developed is perforated sorbent rolls which can be mounted on the shop wall like a giant roll of toilet paper. A worker can tear off as much as is needed to deal with a spill. The product is also packaged in pads, socks, pillows and booms. Booms float on water to contain a spill and mop-up hydrocarbons.

A former oil salesman, Farquhar was a founding partner in a competitor company (Can-Ross) which is the Canadian licensee of American-sourced spill response media. With that organization he was responsible for the development of their lines of emergency spill response media products.

Farquhar sold his shares in Can-Ross and started Spill Tech because he wanted to gain more control over his business.

"I was locked into distribution, pricing, quantity and quality," he said. "Now I have control over my raw material and packaging, and I can market anywhere in the world."

He and his family moved from southern Ontario because they have roots in Sault Ste. Marie. They wanted the business to be 100-per-cent Canadian. The good shipping and cross-border access afforded by the Sault were added incentives.

Although he plans to break into the U.S. market eventually, Farquhar is directing his initial marketing efforts at setting up a network of Canadian distributors. He estimates that the Canadian market for emergency response sorbents alone is worth $150 million annually.

Before Spill Tech began operations, Canada had no capacity to produce melt-blown highloft fibre. Now the Canadian manufacturer can compete in the lucrative markets in the health-care, garment and food service sectors.

For at least the next five years, however, Farquhar wants to remain in the environmental protection business.

"We would like to get a recycling plant here to take back the spent sorbents and recycle them back to the polypropylene raw material."

One of the major investors in Spill Tech is Environmental Technologies Investments Inc. (ETI), a Canadian company that acquires and operates firms in the environmental products sector. With sales of $7.6 million in 1989, ETI has interests in waste-water treatment plants, furnace systems and blowers for sewage treatment aeration, and sour exhaust gas removal.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Spill Tech Industries Inc. makes sorbents for oil spills
Author:Smith, Guy
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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