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EarthClean Corporation is being recognized for its innovative approach to utilizing Minnesota’s agricultural commodities for an environmentally friendly firefighting additive and its commitment to expand the product line of natural solutions to difficult problems.
The company is the 2015 Ag Innovator of the Year –recognition given by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) for TetraKO, a cornstarch-based fire suppressant with unique physical properties and dispersion methods.
“EarthClean Corporation exemplifies the ingenuity and excellence in innovation we look for when awarding Ag Innovator of the Year. They are to be commended,” said Shannon Schlecht, AURI Executive Director. “Honors such as this underscore the fact that the utilization of agricultural commodities and coproducts not only expands market opportunities for Minnesota’s crops, but also creates new business opportunities and jobs in the state.”
“With TetraKO, our starch-based biodegradable fire suppressant, we have developed a product that uses simple, natural ingredients effectively,” said acting EarthClean CEO Jim Grabek. “It’s a better way of fighting fires – particularly wildfires – since toxic products can’t be dropped near water and can harm wildlife.”
TetraKO was developed through the collaboration of two chemists, a manufacturing engineer and a firefighter who is also a commercial pilot. It is a cornstarch-based granulate product added to a water tank to form a gel. The gel can be sprayed using typical firefighting equipment. When the solution exits the nozzle, it re-forms into a gel that adheres to trees, brush or structures, holding water molecules in place and absorbing the heat of the fire. The fire is extinguished more effectively than water alone.
The research was also supported by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council. “We are very pleased that TetraKO is coming forward in development. With the drought related fires we saw in the western U.S. this past summer, having a biodegradable product that can be used to control large scale fires, as well as have the potential for smaller scale use, is very exciting for Minnesota corn growers,” said Paul Meints, PhD, Minnesota Corn research director. “Minnesota Corn is proud to be a partner in the development of this product as another innovative use for Minnesota grown corn.”
Though the product has been evaluated by a number of the world’s leading firefighting institutions with impressive results, it is the addition of TetraKO to the U.S. Forest Service Qualified Products List (QPL) sometime in the spring of 2016 that will be a significant milestone for the company. It will allow TetraKO to be used on all federally managed land. The QPL protocols evaluate products for toxicity, corrosiveness, biodegradability and stability under typical outdoor storage condition. EarthClean also intends to expand the introduction of TetraKO with trials in the southern hemisphere during its 2016 firefighting season, in countries such as Colombia, Argentina and Brazil.
Though market expansion will take EarthClean worldwide, the company is Minnesota-based. “Any time you’re recognized by the state you live in and love, and by the industry that supplies and delivers a major component of your product, it’s a major honor,” said Grabek, speaking about the Ag Innovator of the Year Award. “We couldn’t be more thankful for AURI and the state’s support. We’re solving problems utilizing the natural resources Minnesota is known for.”
“AURI helps industries find new uses for traditional, unexplored or overlooked products,” said Michael Sparby, senior project strategist with AURI. “By supporting new and expanding companies, we work to foster long-term economic benefit to the state. It was an honor to assist EarthClean during the U.S. Forest Service testing trials and provide product development guidance for the reformulated liquid version of TetraKO. EarthClean Corporation is a wonderful example of a company poised for long-term success.”