Technology  August 27, 2010

EnviroTech turns dust, snow to green

GREELEY – Roger Knoph likes weather. Especially wind storms and snowstorms. The dustier and icier the better. Better for business that it is.

What could be better than making products that even Mother Nature could sign off on?

Knoph owns EnviroTech Services Inc., a Greeley-based company that makes the de-icer that road crews apply so you can get to work safely and the dust control that is applied to gravel roads to, well, keep the dust down. It also makes soil stabilizer, spray systems and ice sensors.

Knopf founded EnviroTech in 1989 and two decades later the business plan continues to emphasize growth. While other businesses have downsized and cut back to tame the recession dragon, Knoph has added both facilities and continues to seek out mutually beneficial partnerships.

“Last year was our 20th anniversary. We have had 34 percent growth annually,” Knoph said. “We hit the ceiling just before last year. Although we’ve got some good things going on in our company, the growth has slowed down.”

That was “slowed down,” mind you, not “stopped.”

R&D drives growth

Research and development continues to be an important component of that growth, especially now that governments and municipalities – and citizens – are paying attention to how de-icer and dust-control products affect the environment. As a result, EnviroTech continually strives to improve road-treatment products.

“It helps us grow, helps us have more control of our destiny to develop and take to market,” Knoph said.

R&D can take two to three years in EnviroTech’s lab followed by another two years in test markets. “During those two years we modify the product as needed, and identify good and bad things,” he explained. “If there aren’t many adjustments, then we can put it on the market.”

A focus of the company’s R&D has been making road-treatment products that are environmentally friendly yet still deliver top performance. Or in other words, they use less to deliver higher performance. Ice Slicer, for example, is a granular de-icing product that requires half the amount of traditional road salt to achieve comparable results. That has the potential of being a big hit up in the Midwest where salt is still the preferred de-icer.

And using less product results in less labor required to apply it, and this reduces the amount of time road treatment vehicles are in operation, which reduces the carbon footprint. Or in other words, it’s all a good thing.

Environmentally friendly products

Another environmentally friendly product manufactured by EnviroTech is MeltDown Apex, a liquid anti-icing and de-icing product that works at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees (previous products were good down to minus 22 degrees). Meltdown Apex is an enhanced magnesium chloride product, which means it’s less corrosive yet still delivers in the performance arena.

X-hesion, a nonchloride soil stabilization product, eliminates chlorides from being introduced into the environment and helps bind smaller dust particles together. Durablend, on the other hand, is an enhanced dust-control product that achieves the same performance as a typical magnesium chloride treatment but requires half the amount per application. Migration of chloride from the road is also lowered while friction in moisture situations is higher.

Demand for environmentally friendly products such as these is right in line with EnviroTech’s mission.

“Everybody wants something green,” Knoph said. But just because a product is touted as “greener” doesn’t mean it always is, he warned.

Non-chloride de-icer can cost 10 times as much as chloride to perform the same function, for example. “But just because it’s non-chloride doesn’t mean it’s benign to the environment,” he said.

De-icer accounts for 75 percent to 80 percent of EnviroTech’s business “in a good winter.” Where before municipalities, governments and commercial entities would place orders year-round, Knopf said many wait until “just in time.”

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he admitted. “We carry a larger volume of inventory locally than other competitors. When demand is there, we can do a better job.”

Shipping product nationwide

EnviroTech’s Evans facility stores up to 30,000 tons of product, which can be loaded on railcars and shipped to Denver and beyond. The company has numerous similar facilities throughout the United States, including Glenwood Springs, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada. It also operates out of about 30 third-party facilities across the United States.

EnviroTech now does business the entire length of the West Coast and as far east as Nebraska. Joint ventures is propelling the company into the Midwest, East Coast and up into Canada. What sells in the West, however, doesn’t necessarily sell in the East.

“It’s not always simple to understand what product will or won’t be accepted in different parts of the country,” according to Knopf.

 In Chicago, for example, customers are primarily involved in commercial de-icing. In Colorado and much of the West, however, clients are government entities such as the Department of Transportation that are responsible for keeping highways and major roadways open.

Phillip Anderle, highway maintenance supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said CDOT works with lots of vendors, but EnviroTech “puts in extra effort to ensure customer satisfaction.” If he asks for a certain type of product, the company makes it happen. In fact, “It’s gotten to the point where they bring in something different and new before I knew I needed it.”

Dale Miller, road and bridge director for Larimer County, said the county often serves as a test control site for EnviroTech products. If the product works, “we’ll pay for it; if not, we’ve both learned from it. We tried probably eight or 10 different things that didn’t work, so we didn’t have to pay for them.”

Knoph, not one for hard-and-fast predictions, does have his fingers crossed for lots of snow. And if his wish comes true, he’ll make sure it’s safe for the rest of us to get to work.

GREELEY – Roger Knoph likes weather. Especially wind storms and snowstorms. The dustier and icier the better. Better for business that it is.

What could be better than making products that even Mother Nature could sign off on?

Knoph owns EnviroTech Services Inc., a Greeley-based company that makes the de-icer that road crews apply so you can get to work safely and the dust control that is applied to gravel roads to, well, keep the dust down. It also makes soil stabilizer, spray systems and ice sensors.

Knopf founded EnviroTech in 1989 and two decades later the business plan continues…

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