A whirlwind trip to the Gulf Coast last year was only supposed to last a few days, but Scott Smith ended up spending the summer and refining an oil-collecting foam that has his company, Opflex Solutions LLC, considering expansion possibilities.
The cross-linked polyolefin foam, also known as the Green Stuff, has shown an ability to attract oil while repelling water. The oil can then be extracted and the foam used again and again. It has even gained a following on YouTube, where the company has a number of videos illustrating its uses.
The product has been used for cleanups in the Gulf of Mexico and for China's worst oil spill in Dalian. Smith will be a speaker at the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit in New Orleans from April 19-21, the anniversary of the BP plc oil spill.
Opflex Solutions is considering Worcester, Mass., as a site for its headquarters and a new manufacturing facility.
It is hard to get into too many details, but we've had a lot of discussion with the governor's office and the city of Worcester, said Smith, CEO of Opflex, in an April 6 telephone interview.
We have a sense of urgency to move rapidly and the city of Worcester and the state of Massachusetts have been very supportive with our sense of urgency, he noted, citing a need to ramp up production in the next 24-36 months.
Hyannis, Mass.-based Opflex currently operates Cellect Technologies LLC in St. Johnsville, N.Y., and Smith indicated that it will continue to operate and that it is looking for a second facility to handle the growing demand for Opflex, which he estimated could grow to a $50 million market.
We're evaluating a lot of options. The product is so simple and so huge. We see a significant momentum, he said. He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is listing Opflex as a product to use for oil removal.
He did not reveal sales, but said BP has used more than 2 million square feet of Opflex for Gulf oil-spill operations and it continues to get more orders.
The properties of Opflex also has attracted interest from other industries and Smith said that the firm is working on waste-water applications as well.
The idea for Opflex was spawned when Smith's Cellect facility in New York suffered $10 million in damage in 2006. He said that a predecessor foam was used in that cleanup, and then we spent $5 million on research and development.
The idea, which is backed by numerous patents and some that are pending, was commercialized last year.
He said a company video attracted a call from BP and he ended up spending last summer with the fishermen in the Gulf refining the product's abilities. Opflex worked on crude oil, but also pulled out oil sheen and chemicals without taking on water, he said. Competing products would gather oil and then the toxic mix was tossed in the landfill, Smith said. So keeping the product out of landfills could save millions.
A facility in Worcester would put Opflex close to Advanced Environmental Solutions Inc. of Worcester, which has been granted an exclusive license for all marketing and sales of Opflex contamination-control devices such as pom-poms, booms, mops, sweeps and pads to government agencies, including the U.S. military and state agencies.
William Picard, CEO of AES, said the products are especially useful in emergency response situations in an aqua environment.
He said that collecting oil without taking in water is something he will promote.
With Opflex you take the contaminants and wring out the foam which is something that I find pretty incredible. It saves people a lot of money, Picard said.
Picard, an Air Force veteran, said that the agreement with Opflex will enable his company to hire more unemployed, returning veterans.
He said that he will recruit, train and certify locally based veterans in the use of Opflex products. The plan is then to develop the model nationally.
Picard will join Smith at the New Orleans summit where Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the National Oil Spill Commission, is a keynote speaker.