The head of a local company was in Texas on Thursday, trying to get his firm’s special foam into the water to help soak up crude oil washing ashore in Louisiana and threatening sensitive wildlife.
St. Johnsville-based Cellect Plastics makes a polyolefin foam called “OpFlex” that repels water but absorbs oils and hydrocarbons.
As news agencies reported the oil slick was moving north in the Gulf of Mexico toward marshes and the mouth of the Mississippi River, Cellect CEO Scott Smith was in Houston, hoping to ship some of the foam from New York to the Gulf region so he could demonstrate the product and its capabilities.
Smith said he enlisted the help of his company’s partner, M.H. Stallman of Rhode Island, and a Cellect scientist was filing papers with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to get the foam approved for use in the water.
A patent application for the modified foam was filed Wednesday night, Smith said.
Smith — no stranger to disasters after seeing his own Montgomery County factory swamped by floodwaters in 2006 — said the company has been working over the past three years to modify the foam so it can remove oils from lakes, oceans and marinas.
OpFlex is reusable and biodegradable.
An earlier variety of it is currently on the market and being used in the medical field.
Smith said he’s encountered numerous firms in the Gulf region trying to get their products into the cleanup effort.
He said he was planning to attend a conference with patent attorneys while trying to get a meeting with officials at BP, the oil company whose drilling platform exploded, killing 11 people and causing the massive oil spill to begin.
Back in St. Johnsville, Cellect technical director Bob Hurley, a plastics engineering specialist who’s worked in the foam business since 1978, was checking little golf ball-sized pieces of the OpFlex foam he’d placed in a container of water mixed with heavy gear oil.
He pulled out a bobbing green sponge that appeared to have no oil in it and squeezed it to show the oil ooze out of the foam.
Most foams are full of tiny air pockets, but those pockets, or cells, are isolated, he said.
Cellect modified its foam to make the cells interconnected, so the water can flow through it.
Oils stay in the foam because of the simple principle of polarity, he said.
“Selectively, it will absorb the oil and leave the water,” Hurley said.
Plant manager Steve Trembley was scrambling Thursday to post a video online showing OpFlex absorbing oil during a test to help Smith in his efforts to get approval for the product and get it into the hands of those cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The OpFlex foam in its other form, used to soak up lotions and other oily substances in the medical field, isn’t one of the company’s biggest sellers, Hurley said.
Much of Cellect’s foam is used in the sports industry to make protective gear, yoga mats, insulation for automobile manufacturing and cleaning products that kill bacteria.
The foam’s unique makeup enables it to hold on to biocide chemicals for up to four hours and when used for cleanup it can kill bacteria, viruses and a variety of molds and mildews.
But the possibility the company could ramp up production of its newest foam blend and help in the oil spill cleanup efforts was generating energy at the St. Johnsville facility.
“Everybody’s pretty excited about this product,” Hurley said.
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Categories: Schenectady County