Advanced disinfectant technology developer sets sights on oil and gas applications
A small publicly-listed Santa Ana, Calif.–based company that is developing water purification and advanced disinfectant technologies, all using some form of iodine, sees one of its Edmonton-developed technologies as a way to clean up and even eliminate oilsands mining tailings ponds.
“With our technology you can reduce the footprint of and even eliminate tailings ponds,” says Dennis Calvert, president and chief executive officer of BioLargo Inc., which is listed on the OTC bulletin board [Symbol: BLGO] in the United States.
Despite its small size, the company has secured 12 U.S. patents for its iodine-based technologies and has another eight pending for what Calvert calls multi-billion dollar business opportunities.
And while that might sound like hype, the company’s water purification and disinfectant technology developed by Edmonton-based inventor Kenneth R. Code, from whom BioLargo purchased the rights to the iodine-dosing system concept in 2007 (he remains its chief science officer), is expected to be piloted at an oilsands mining site in the next year or so.
The road to commercial application of its Advanced Oxidation System (AOS) Filter technology to treat water in oilsands tailings and in other water treatment applications is well advanced. The company is a founding member of a research chair launched about three years ago at the University of Alberta (U of A) focused on evaluating technologies to help solve contaminated water issues in the oilsands.
That chair, sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, includes membership by such oilsands industry giants as Syncrude Canada Ltd., Suncor Energy Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell plc and Canadian Natural Resources Limited, along with Alberta Innovates and Environment Canada. Calvert says laboratory tests of the AOS Filter at the U of A led to significant validation of the technology in preparation for the tailings pond field pilot test.
The company is also exploring many other opportunities for deploying its technology. “The most rapid adoption is likely to be in the area of [treating and disinfecting] industrial produced water,” he says. “Tailings ponds will happen more slowly because of the scale.”
The most likely areas where the company’s iodine-based technologies will be adopted are in the food processing and refining sectors, he says.
“We believe our technology is world-class,” says Calvert. He adds that the BioLargo technology will eventually be deployed in developing nations, where the quality of drinking water is an urgent health issue. “It could also end up under the kitchen sink,” where the effectiveness of existing water filtration systems could be accelerated using the company’s technology.
But for now the company is continuing to work with U of A researchers to prove up its approach in treating tailings water. It is also working with Lynn McMullen, U of A professor in the department of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional Science, who is researching the use of the AOS Filter in food processing, livestock and other agricultural sectors. [Referring to the results as 'unprecedented with endless applications within the food industry']
However, as a small company with limited financial flexibility (it has raised $15 million in private equity), the company is concentrating on strategic partnerships and on the speedy adoption of its technology in a variety of industries.
“We think of ourselves as a platform technology company,” Calvert says. “We have a number of initiatives that are starting to generate revenue. We’re focused on selling the licence [for the technology] to established companies.”
To speed up adoption and generate revenue, the company is working with other firms involved in the pet care sector, since its technology can be used for odour abatement, and in the medical sector, where iodine-based solutions are used for advanced wound care.
Last year it announced it had sold a version of its technology called Suction Canister Solidifiers to the U.S. Army Medical Agency, where the product will be used in triage and surgery during troop deployment. It had previously sold a version of the technology that solidifies bodily fluids and eliminates odours to a medical facility at Langley Air Force Base.
That product design was developed by its Clyra Technology division, which has developed super absorbent pads and wound dressings, woven and non-woven wound dressings and other medical products, all of which have earned or are awaiting U.S. patents. Although no dollar figures were announced related to the arrangement, the product could now be deployed by all U.S. military forces, representing a significant market, Calvert says.
In mid-August the company announced it had entered into a manufacturing and distribution licence deal for its Isan precision iodine dosing system with Clarion Water, a new operating division of InsulTech Manufacturing LLC, which has more than 20 years of commercial success worldwide in the water disinfection sector.
Based on the use of iodine, which Calvert calls “a powerful, broad-spectrum biocide,” the Isan disinfection system is seen as “the logical replacement for chlorine in applications involving irrigation supply and post-harvest sanitation,” he says. It delivers iodine with exact precision for fortification, or depending on the application, it can take it back out.
It will initially concentrate on the agricultural sector. Clarion has already marketed the Isan system in Australia and New Zealand and will now market it worldwide. Under the licence agreement, BioLargo received a $100,000 payment upfront and will earn a royalty on sales for the next two years.
MAGIC OF IODINE
Iodine is common to all the applications BioLargo is involved in. The chemical element, the heaviest essential element used widely in biological functions, has long been known as the broadest spectrum, most powerful disinfectant known. Even NASA recognizes iodine’s unique qualities, the company notes, using it as the only water disinfection process on all manned space flights.
“All of the work that we have done over the years is to advance our technology for the use of iodine across a number of different market segments,” says Calvert.
The AOS Filter technology, a new invention that has been developed by the company in the last three years, deploys the power of iodine and electrolysis using a kind of steady shower technology that decontaminates and removes odours at one-twentieth the cost of existing approaches, Calvert says. In addition, there is little power consumption when the technology is deployed.
“We’re enhancing the performance of widely understood technologies,” says Calvert. “In testing we validated that our AOS Filter was able to dismantle and remove [contaminants] in seconds versus hours [with other technologies].”
He further explains how the technology works. “What we have done is we have taken an oxidizer, iodine, and we have combined it with well-understood technologies like carbon, filter media, ceramics or membrane technologies, and when we combine those components, we can extract contaminants from the water flow. What is unique about the invention is that we have combined traditional filter media with an oxidizing technology and electricity, which then allows the device to provide an oxidation potential across the surface area of the filter media at an incredibly effective rate.
“What it means basically is we have taken a filter, and we have converted it into a reactor, so we can then operate at very high flow rates and at incredibly low levels of energy. So the device features high rates of oxidation, low power consumption, high speed and continuous flow.”
OIL AND GAS FIX
In the oilsands sector, contaminants such as naphthenic acid and bacteria must be dealt with in water treatment. In addition, there are such hard-to-treat contaminants as acids, ammonias, solvents and dioxane.
Many of the same contaminants are common in other oil and gas processes, such as hydraulic fracturing. BioLargo’s technology could be used to treat recycled water in many areas of the oil and gas industry.
At the U of A, the tests were conducted on contaminated water taken from oilsands tailings, “and the work has proven our effectiveness of dismantling and removing targeted naphthenic acids,” he says.
It now costs an estimated $2.50–$3 per barrel to treat contaminated water in the oilsands mining sector, according to Calvert. “We can do it for a fraction of the cost.”
BioLargo’s suite of technologies has attracted some respected executives to the company. Harry DeLonge, now a senior adviser at the company, was formerly a vice-president of manufacturing technologies with beverage and snack food giant Pepsi-Cola International. Vikram Rao, another senior adviser, spent 30 years with oilfield service giant Halliburton Company, most recently serving as its senior vice-president, senior strategy adviser and chief technology officer.
Tanya Rhodes, a former vice-president of innovation and wound management with pharmaceutical industry giant Smith & Nephew Wound Management, is a senior adviser with BioLargo’s Clyra Medical division.
Calvert says the company’s motto is “We make life better,” reflecting the importance of clean water [food safety & wound healing) to humanity. “We think it’s our right to have clean drinking water, but the investment is so high [to achieve that goal] that it isn’t feasible. But we bring an economically viable technology to the table at a fraction of the cost of other approaches.”
Kris Cudmore, who heads Grande Prairie, Alta.–based water logistics company White Water Management Ltd., is so impressed with BioLargo’s technology he wants to get in touch with the company to try it out in the oil and gas production areas where his company works, in northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia.
“We’ve been looking at iodine-based electrolysis technology,” says Cudmore, president of the five-year-old company. “We’re trying to figure out what the best technology is. I’d like to reach out to them.”
White Water, which supplies water for hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas uses and also works on water issues in the forestry sector, regularly assesses different approaches to water treatment and recycling. Cudmore says iodine-based treatments make sense. “It [will] be a multi-million dollar technology,” if it works as promoted, he says.
He’s hopeful the technology will reduce the salinity in treated water, which is a major issue. But after having investigated various approaches to treating water, he says he is impressed with BioLargo’s approach.
Water use will only grow as an issue in northern Alberta and northern British Columbia, Cudmore says, and BioLargo’s technology has a huge potential market in the oil and gas industry and other sectors if it works “as it appears,” he says.
His company, which sets up large water storage tanks and pumps water from as far as 24 kilometres away for fracking jobs and treats grey water from Alberta municipalities such as Fox Creek, Rocky Mountain House and Edson for use in fracking, would definitely use BioLargo’s approach if it is as effective as the company suggests.