John Brinkman says he’s often greeted with a cynicism when he tries to sell the oil industry on the benefits of his oil spill clean up product
“We get lumped in with everyone else. People think, ‘here comes another snake oil salesman.’ But then it turns out to be better than sliced bread,” says Brinkman, president of Imbibitive Technologies Canada Inc.
Learning about the spill business, Brinkman quickly found that North American companies have no required performance standards for the clean up of a hazardous and noxious substance spill, apart from voluntary standards. He wondered how people knew just how well, or more importantly, how poorly, a spill’s contaminants were recovered. Throughout history, the fact that a spill is ever even “cleaned-up” is generally considered enough, he says. And for good reason. For most of the world’s industrial history—rife with secret dumping and unreported spills—just getting to that point was a struggle.
In 1994, when Brinkman began Imbibitive Technologies the 1989 Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill was still fresh in mind, and he figured his company’s revolutionary spill control product, Imbiber Beads, would change the market, making poor contaminant recovery rates at disaster cleanups a thing of the past.
The Imbiber Beads concept is based on baby diaper technology. Place the small plastic beads into contaminated water, and they expand, absorbing (or imbibing) some 27 times their own volume, essentially solidifying the liquid contaminant, making it part of the Imbiber Beads molecular structure.
Sixteen years later, says Brinkman, “[BP] Deepwater Horizon hit,” and it was “the same lousy techniques,” and the same poor performance, he says. Only a small fraction (anywhere from three to 25 per cent) of the oil from Deepwater was actually recovered during the clean up process. Then, “desperation called for desperate measures,” he recalls. “They dumped detergent on the oil [at the broken well-head] for the first time in history without knowing the long-term effects,” he says, referring to the use of Corexit oil dispersant.
What was going on? Brinkman wondered. His product is easy to use and could reach contaminant recovery levels of up to 90 per cent. The industry standard for recovery ranges from five to 15 per cent.
“The knock against IMBIBER BEADS has always been ‘great product, too expensive.’ But too expensive compared to what?” asks Brinkman. Too expensive to actually clean-up contamination? It’s not expensive when companies are paying less for a product that doesn’t really work, he says. “They’re good at buying equipment, using it, and not recovering. The industry has built itself up by being ineffective.”
But Brinkman’s still championing his flagship product, and hoping that industry and government will finally realize that it’s time to start doing better, to start hitting respectable recovery levels at cleanups, instead of just showing up and getting paid with little accountability.
Moving forward, Brinkman is now building support from environmental advocacy groups like the Riverkeepers. He’s just hoping the support ramps up to the point that North American industry will sit up, respond, and take spill recovery technology into the 21st century, exactly where he says the environment needs it to be.
(Source: Cleantech Canada)