Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - January 2013
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
A Greener Clean
Clean Plus Inc.’s newest mess-absorbing product gives corn stalks new purpose and existing alternatives a run for their money.
CEO George Coy and President Matthew Coy stand on corn stalk bales ready to be turned into CPI's Drip Trap Absorbent Granules.
For Clean Plus Inc. in West Concord, Minn., five years of research are about to pay off. The company’s Drip Trap Absorbent Granules, the newest product in a line of industrial cleaning solutions, are designed to absorb oil and other liquids from the floor. Though other companies offer similar solutions made from clay and chemical compounds, the star ingredient in CPI’s granule is a simple and surprising byproduct of many Minnesota farms: corn stalks.
“We fully anticipate that this product has the potential to double our business,” says Matthew Coy, CPI president.
A corn stalk’s unique cell structure allows moisture to pass both into and out of the cell. But it also contains lignin, a natural glue which attracts hydrocarbons (the main components of petroleum and natural gas) and then traps them within the cell wall, making it ideal for cleaning up oily spills. In addition to being a green alternative, the CPI granules are also more effective. Pound for pound, they can absorb six times more than traditional clay and chemical absorbents at one-sixth the weight.
The challenge in production was finding a way to turn corn stalks into a granular form while preserving their absorbent performance. To do so, CPI partnered with researchers at the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI).
“Traditionally, if you want to make a pellet or a granule, you grind it down very, very fine and run it through a pellet mill, so that was the first thing we tried. It worked, but it didn’t perform any better than clay,” Coy says. “In working with the University, we learned that running that fibrous material through a high-compression pellet mill actually crushes the cell wall, so we completely lost all of the benefit of the unique cellular structure of the corn stalk. We had to look at other methods.”
It took CPI and NRRI researchers five years of trial and error to design a mechanical alternation process that could turn corn stalks into an equally absorbent granular form. The winning method incorporates two topsecret ingredients and pan disc agglomeration, which introduces the raw corn stalk material and other ingredients to an angled, spinning disc. As the ingredients spin on the disc, they stick to each other to form small pellets before hopping off the disc into a collection bin.
Corn stalks are also the main ingredient in three other absorbent products in CPI’s array of cleaning products for the automotive, agricultural and industrial markets. The company’s absorbent pillow can be placed on top of smaller spills. A tube-shaped variant is designed to keep spills from running down a hill, migrating across the floor or getting away from a piece of leaking equipment. And its original corn stalk product, a compressed corn stalk mat, is used to catch incidental drips and spills.
These three products make up about 12 percent of CPI’s annual revenues, with treated hand cleaners, cleaning towels and automotive repair kits rounding out sales. But once it hits the market, Coy says the granule product alone could make up 60 percent of annual revenues. The challenge will be keeping pace with the growth.
“The biggest opportunity is the prospect of serving the market need with our absorbents. The biggest challenge will be filling that need, whether it’s capacity, manufacturing, delivery or packaging,” Coy says. A good problem to have.
For more information about Clean Plus Inc., visit www.cpidivisions.com
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