Wyoming might not seem like a maritime industry hub, but a Laramie-based company has been making its mark with shipping companies, and hopes to revolutionize municipal water sanitation as well.
“We’re in the middle of the country, but we’re not in the middle of nowhere. We’re an equal distance from all the major ports,” Kent Henry, president of Electrichlor told Cowboy State Daily.
“We’d like to think Garth Brooks was on to something when he sang about ‘The Beaches of Cheyenne,’” he added, in reference to the country music mega-star's forlorn song.
Making Things Simpler For Sailors
Maritime environmental regulations can put cargo ship companies in a quandary, Henry explained.
Large ships need to stay level in the water and variations in cargo loads can affect how a ship tilts. To even things out, ships fill onboard ballast tanks with seawater. And that’s where things can get complicated.
Aquatic microbes vary cross the globe. So, water drawn into the ballast tanks in one port, but then ejected back into the sea in another port can introduce what are essentially “invasive species” into new location, Henry said.
That means ships must sanitize their ballast tanks while in port, “the busiest time for a ship’s crew,” using elaborate and sometimes unreliable systems and delaying the loading and onloading of cargo, he said.
Electrichlor builds and sells hypochlorite generator water sanitation systems. That’s a unit compact enough to fit inside a small compartment aboard a ship. It can sanitize the ballast water continuously while the ship is underway, eliminating the need to deal with it in port.
“When a ship is underway, the crew has more time, so somebody can monitor the system,” Henry said.
Electrichlor has installed units aboard ships in Singapore, China and Turkey.
Salt Plus Electricity Equals Bleach
While the science and expertise involved can be mind-bogglingly complex, the ultimate end product is actually simple, Henry said.
“We’re making chlorine bleach,” he said.
But not just any chlorine bleach, said Electrichlor employee Eric Gunderson, a chemical engineer.
In the simplest of terms, the process uses salt – sodium chloride – as the basic raw material, and electricity as the catalyst in specially designed cells, he said.
The end product is a chloride bleach that hits just the right levels of parts-per-million in its mixture with water as well as hitting a sweet spot on the pH spectrum.
Too far to one side of the pH spectrum, and a product can become acidic enough to corrode equipment and “eat your clothes and skin” Gunderson said. Too far to the other end and it can create potentially hazardous chlorine gas.
Moreover, using a hypochlorite generator to continually flow that perfectly-balanced chlorine bleach into a water system is far cheaper than buying commercial or industrial bleach in bulk and having to inject separately into a system, he said.
A customer “can go buy a couple of pallets of salt from the Home Depot and have all the basic material they need for two years of operation,” Gunderson said.
On fishing vessels, Electrichlor units have been used to sanitize the fish processing areas, Henry said.
In the office of the company’s headquarters in Laramie, one wall is covered with photos of all of the ships that are outfitted with their systems.
Those include massive vessels that can partially submerge to take another ship, or a submarine, up onto their decks for repairs or transport, he said.
“The world’s largest ships are the ones that have our technology onboard,” Henry said.
Municipal Water Treatment Is Next
The system can also be applied to municipal water treatment, saving towns and cities the trouble of having to deal with older methods that use massive amounts of industrial bleach or chlorine gas, Henry said.
Several communities in Wyoming have shown interests and asked for demonstrations, he said.
Electrichlor has a mobile unit mounted inside a 28-foot fully enclosed trailer. That unit was recently taken to Haines City, Florida – with a population of roughly 13,000 – for a demonstration, Henry said. It successfully ran the city’s water treatment system for 20 days.
Wyoming Through And Through
Henry has a background in chemistry and engineering, and previously did contract work for the U.S. Navy.
Through that work he developed a friendship with the founders of Electrichlor, in Indiana. When he heard the company was shutting down in 2016, he decided to acquire it and move it to Laramie – where he bought some commercial property to house it.
“I moved it here because I live here, and I’m not moving,” he said.
He recently merged the company with NClear, inc., in anticipation of major growth, but emphasized that Electrichlor isn’t going anywhere. His staff is up to eight full-time employees, including his son Jonah Henry, and an intern.
Though titanium must be purchased directly from China, Kent Henry said he tries to get as many materials and services as possible from within the Cowboy State.
Daniel Johlman of Wyoming Welding and Machine in Sheridan builds all of the metal framework mounting systems for the units, he said. And Brian Collingwood of Mark’s Body & Fab in Casper provides the protective metal coating.
“We could have taken the easy route and gone to Fort Collins looking for material and service contracts,” Henry said. “We’ve deliberately worked to keep it in Wyoming.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at: Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com