This blog is part of a continuing series of interviews with the semifinalists of the Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open competition. Check back soon to learn about other innovative clean-technology startups.
Company: Pure Enviro — http://pureenviro.com
Location: Orem, Utah
Category: Agriculture – Water – Waste
Interviewee(s): Gabe Reid (CEO), Grant Smith
Author: Mike Oertli (@mikeoertli)
Interview by: Mike Oertli & Karyssa Cox
Throughout the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of known sources of contamination of our soil and groundwater. Despite regulations and mandated cleaning, the backlog continues to grow as the demand outpaces the ability to clean those facilities. One might first picture a steaming puddle of waste and think this doesn’t apply to your neighborhood; but what if I told you it does?
These contamination sites are far more ordinary than you’d think. Gas stations are an example of hydrocarbon contamination that appear normal above ground yet are gradually contaminating the soil and water beneath them. The other prevalent contaminants, chlorinated solvents, are found near chemical cleaning sites such as dry cleaners or equipment-cleaning facilities.
Pure Enviro, a 2014 Cleantech Open semifinalist, has devised two improved methods to combat this growing list of contamination sites by cleaning faster, more effectively, and with environmentally conscious methods.
Cleantech Open: What does your company do, and what problem are you solving?
Pure Enviro: We clean dirt and groundwater. There is contamination of groundwater and soil that is a big problem and we have methods, technologies, and a business model to remediate those sites — more efficiently, more quickly, and in a more cost-effective way.”
Q: What makes your solution unique?
A: On the hydrocarbon side, our number one goal is to get the property owner a ‘No Further Action’ letter. So where a lot of other people have methods to treat these sites … a lot of them go on for years and years … our approach is to go in and get it cleaned up as fast as possible and get that NFA letter. With respect to hydrocarbons, we have a better product than our competitors … but on the chlorinated solvent side there is no great solution—aside from ours—for the problem right now.
The method used by Pure Enviro not only expects the NFA letter once treatment is complete; the treatment process is also more favorable to the business owner. Conventional treatments frequently involve a great deal of digging, soil cleaning, and heavy equipment. The Pure Enviro method is entirely underground, much like an underground sprinkler system. This allows the business to remain open while the treatment takes place, rather than having to shut down. In many cases, the customers won’t even know the cleaning is taking place.
This cleaning process for hydrocarbons involves a customized mixture of nutrients and oxygen injected with a specific flow, pressure, and target location. This stimulates the natural microbes in the ground that dissolve the contaminants on a substantially accelerated schedule, when compared to the rate at which those microbes would otherwise clean the soil and water under natural circumstances. By accelerating the natural cleaning process rather than injecting other chemicals, the procedure is clean and safe for the environment.
Chlorinated solvents, those contaminants found near dry cleaners and industrial cleaning facilities, do not dissolve naturally like the hydrocarbons do; the process for cleaning these differs as a result. The differentiator for Pure Enviro is that we have come up with a proprietary modification to a naturally occurring bacteria, which we inject into the ground to consume the contaminants — a process that does not leave behind harmful byproducts.
Q: Who is your target market?
A: From gas stations alone there are over 100,000 backlogs that the Environmental Protection Agency has recorded and identified that need some type of remediation… and that’s not even the big target market; the big one is the chlorinated solvents.
As population and development grow, the need for refueling stations, heavy machinery, industrial cleaning facilities, and military bases will grow too. These are all sites with soil and groundwater contamination concerns and the number of sites in need of remediation is growing faster than the remediation is taking place. Looking on a global scale, there is a major potential for these technologies in countries where there is no body like the EPA to monitor or regulate like we have in the United States.
Q: Why did you choose clean technology and what do you think are the main challenges in this industry?
A: We want to leave a legacy behind [with what] we have done to make the world better, and I cannot think of a better opportunity to do than to be able to clean up the environment. The main challenge in the industry is to prove your technology. For any startup you’re kind of the new kid on the block and there is this doubt and skepticism. People have faith in other companies because they’re established — even if they aren’t solving the problem. The other challenge is making sure people understand how big of an issue soil and groundwater pollution is.
Q: Tell the story of the “moment of conception” of the idea – the moment when you knew you had the solution to the problem.
A: My background is not in chemistry; I’m more of a businessman. As I was doing my due diligence, I wanted to make sure we had the better solution, so we met with different soil scientists, PhDs and biochemists across the country… and we knew we had something when these individuals wanted to come on board.
Pure Enviro is poised to address a substantial and growing problem with a solution that embraces the values of the Cleantech Open. By cleaning the soil and groundwater with effective and environmentally friendly methods, their plan improves the quality of life for billions of people — now and into the future.