Anyone who has driven on a rural road or worked in remote areas where oil, mining, forestry or other development is occurring knows dealing with dust and unstable soils can be annoying — and it can also be a never-ending and costly task.
Winnipeg-based Cypher Environmental, run by 34-year-old entrepreneur Todd Burns, has perfected an eco-friendly way to virtually eliminate that dust and to stabilize soils in areas like mine sites, where heavy truck traffic is a constant — and expensive — irritant.
And, by the way, it has also developed a technology that utilizes bacteria and enzymes for wastewater remediation, potentially a multi-million-dollar market.
Cypher’s business motto, “Driven by Innovation – Partners in Performance,” captures the fast-growing company’s raison d’être.
But, as is the case with most successful companies, it took leadership to bring that motto and vision to reality.
Burns, who has traveled to more than 40 countries to promote and market Cypher’s suite of environmentally-friendly technologies, was a 2001 graduate of Winnipeg’s Red River College when he saw the potential of a technology his late father had discovered. He had also later studied environmental science at the University of Manitoba.
“The (dust-suppression) technology business operated out of my dad’s basement,” he said. “We used to have the product made in China and were practicing absentee management. I brought the control of the manufacture of the product to Winnipeg, which allowed us to focus on our products.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
While the firm only has a handful of direct employees now in Winnipeg, most are engineers and technologists who are dedicated to product enhancement and development, its tentacles reach out much more than that. With dozens of distributors worldwide and with a reliance on its own manufacturing capabilities, Burns says the company’s footprint is much larger.
“Indirectly we employ hundreds of people around the world,” said Burns.
And, as sales of Cypher’s products climbs into the millions of dollars annually, it continues to expand its Winnipeg head office staff, with plans to hire more engineering technicians and another business development manager this year.
Burns says it was all about taking good ideas and hiring technical staff, such as engineers and scientists, who could generate the data to illustrate to customers just how beneficial its technologies are.
From that nucleus the company has expanded its expertise in the areas of dust-suppression, road-stabilization and water-treatment products, all multi-million-dollar markets worldwide. All of its products are 100 per cent environmentally-friendly and are organic, biodegradable and non-toxic.
One of its initial core products, Dust Stop, is benefitting from a $65,000 federal applied research and development grant, aimed at enhancing its already impressive value proposition.
Its other products, EarthZyme and UltraZyme, have also benefitted from large investments in research and development
Dust Stop, one of the firm’s legacy products, can bring with it not only significant environmental benefits but major cost savings, which is a characteristic of all of Cypher’s products.
Burns has little problem describing the benefits of the product.
“On a mining site, for example, you see five large water trucks, having to constantly spray water on access roads throughout the day,” he said, adding that this often involves the spraying of millions of litres of water daily.
“You can imagine the GHGs (greenhouse gases) being generated by those trucks, as well as the amount of fuel the trucks burn. But Dust Stop only needs to be reapplied every six months to a year. The cost savings are huge because you’re not having to do that amount of regular road maintenance.”
In addition, GHG emissions and other environmental benefits are significant. This is even more the case because, in addition to using large volumes of water to control dust, road crews, especially on mining sites, often use calcium chloride and magnesium chloride to prevent dust, both of which are highly caustic and corrosive.
There’s an obvious time savings as well, with traffic to the site not being disrupted so often.
“Rain is often a problem with unpaved roads (with conventional watering techniques),” he said. “With our product, that is not a problem.”
Dust Stop, which is in use worldwide, is a proven product, with municipal governments, miners and other resource producers and others having made it one of the firm’s most widely used solutions.
EarthZyme, another of the firm’s widely used products, is ideal for the clay-based soils that are common in Canada and worldwide. It’s a non-toxic, enzyme-based soil stabilizer, used extensively in remote locations like mining sites.
With just one application, EarthZyme can help significantly reduce road maintenance costs by increasing the road’s compaction and strength. It’s ideal for areas with extreme climates.
“It’s all about cost savings and reducing the environmental impact of your operations,” said Burns. “Now mine and other operators have to haul out the clay and bring in aggregates to stabilize their roads. Imagine the fuel being burned and the GHGs generated. With EarthZyme we give you the in situ ability to deal with that problem.”
In many cases, EarthZyme and Dust Stop are both used on a worksite.
Cypher customer Syncrude Canada applied EarthZyme on mine haul roads at its oilsands plant site in northern Alberta. A follow-up study found that rolling resistance, a common problem on roads used by large haul trucks, was reduced dramatically and fuel costs were reduced by as much as 90 per cent.
Engineers on his staff continue to work on enhancements of the products.
“We’re constantly working to develop new technologies and to develop new applications for the products we have,” said Burns.
Cypher’s newest product, UltraZyme, has it entering a new and mammoth market worldwide.
UltraZyme is a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly product used for effluent treatment.
“UltraZyme is based on a mixture of bacteria and enzymes to treat wastewater,” he said. “We have used the product at a banana plantation for a customer in Costa Rica and they were able to recycle 80 per cent of the water they were using (to clean the fruit), which led to significant cost savings.”
In lagoons or wastewater treatment plants UltraZyme works by speeding up the digestion of organics.
It has been tested with soil-based oil spills as well. “It eats up the oil,” he said.
Burns said the company is working now with researchers at the University of Alberta to test its effectiveness in remediating oilsands tailings, which presents a huge environmental challenge for oilsands miners.
Cypher is also advancing its work using UltraZyme on high nitrogen-content water.
“We’re targeting high algae-content water,” he said. “We see that application as ideal for zoos, small lagoons and commercial fish farms.”
Because of the drop in commodity prices, sales of Dust Stop and EarthZyme to the mining and oil industry were lagging for a time, but he said the company emphasized the cost-savings that could be realized by use of the products, which has resonated with those involved in those industries.
Meanwhile, it continues to develop other products and applications, such as the use of EarthZyme in other applications in the municipal sector, where it sees a large opportunity.
While the young executive continues to spend more time in airplanes than he would like to, considering he has a young family, he credits World Trade Centre Winnipeg and, in particular, the Centrallia event, which attracts entrepreneurs and trade officials from over 30 countries to the city, with helping his firm market internationally.
“We are really excited about Centrallia because we do so many international sales,” he said. “It has been a big help to us.”
His firm, which has participated in past Centrallia events, will be an enthusiastic participant this upcoming May 25-27, when Centrallia is held at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.
Billed as the equivalent of a “speed-dating opportunity” for small and mid-sized businesses, he said it gives his company the opportunity to meet one-on-one with businesspeople from throughout the world. In the past, the event, which is held every two years, has produced leads that later led to sales opportunities for Cypher, he said.
This year, in recognition of the young executive’s expertise in tapping international markets, he will be a member of the panel discussing opportunities in the Americas.
Centrallia gives Manitoba-based businesses, as well as other Canadian companies, a grasp of the opportunities that lie outside of their provinces and Canada — something Cypher has certainly realized.
— Content is provided by Glacier FarmMedia, a Centrallia sponsor.