By Dave Fidlin | Jul 11, 2022
Phoenix, Arizona and Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada
Hanna, who says he has long "been in the water game," embarked on his latest professional endeavor in his home country of Canada at the urging of a scientist friend who was looking to eradicate the number of fish kills in waterways from metals and other pollutants that disrupt the natural ecosystem.
In 2005, Hanna began tinkering with a solution that has since been described as a gel flocculant. He ultimately received funding and support from universities and the National Research Council of Canada to advance the research.
"I started with a fish tank in my basement," Hanna reflects. "I basically ran all of the flow tests, die tests -- you name it. I tried different chemistries."
Hanna and his team spent much of the subsequent decade-and-a-half refining and perfecting Clearflow Group’s gel flocculant through their Sherwood Park, Alberta, facility to eliminate or reduce metals, phosphorus, and TSS in different settings.
Because the solution making up the gel flocculant is so unique, Hanna says there is no easy way to describe it, though he does liken it to a ball of Silly Putty.
"It's a unique formulation," Hanna says. "It's not a liquid; it's not granular. It's what we call a gel, and it's semi aqueous. It dissolves, is long lasting, and works in a slow-release fashion. The release is based on particle load in the water. The dirtier the water, the more it's going to release."
The company reached a significant milestone in 2019 when a 7,000-square-foot U.S.-based manufacturing branch opened in Phoenix. It has grown to such an extent that it serves not only the home country, but operations elsewhere across the globe with the exception of Canada.
"Phoenix turned out to be the perfect place to be," Hanna says. "I had owned a house in Phoenix, so the timing and placement couldn't have been any better."
As with many industries, however, the timing and forward-thinking plans were upended -- at least temporarily – by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has maintained a small staff size for the foreseeable future, opting to outsource sales and other functions to companies that distribute the product.
About 70 percent of Clearflow Group's clientele currently consists of mining companies that are under ever-increasing environmental regulation requirements, depending on the country, to adopt more stringent practices that protect waterways from contaminants. Clearflow Group also has signed agreements with heavy construction operators and municipalities.
Despite the pandemic-induced hiccups, Hanna says Clearflow Group has been -- and continues to be -- on a growth trajectory. Existing customers, he says, have come back for repeat business, and the company is poised for ongoing success in the emerging regulatory environment. From a revenue standpoint, Hanna says there has been "double-digit growth" the past several years.
"When it comes to the regulatory environment, we're about 10 years in advance on our technology, versus what the regulatory demand has been," Hanna says. "The beauty of all that was we were prepared. We were so far into the future that we had our technology ready to go immediately."
Challenges: Hanna adamantly says Clearflow Group's product has been a resounding success. He points to the near eradication of arsenic in water supplies near a mining company that has become a client. The traces are so low, Hanna says, they now are in a "non-detect phase."
But that level of success has resulted in a degree of skepticism within various industries. Some companies have been hesitant to sign on the dotted line because of a "too good to be true" line of thinking.
"We go in the room, and we have to knock down this barrier," says Hank Marshall, vice president of operations for Clearflow Group's Phoenix facility. "Even in the face of third-party results that we can produce, they'll say, 'Our scientists have never been able to deal with this. We just don't see how this is possible.'"
Opportunities: While there has been exponential growth in the core markets of the U.S. and Canada, Hanna says Clearflow Group is poised to continue rolling out into the international arena.
The company established presences in such disparate countries as England and Brazil through distributors and is poised to expand into other markets in the near term -- most notably, Mexico.
From a product standpoint, Hanna says he also envisions additional formulations of the company's gel flocculants coming to the marketplace. A total of 11 core formulations are currently available. New ones are periodically made based on clients' provided water samples.
Needs: Simply getting the word out about Clearflow Group's solutions is top-of-mind for Hanna and others within the company. Because of the nature of some of the industries they work with, information does not spread as organically as it does for some other products in the marketplace.
"Because of legalities, a lot of information isn't allowed to be shared from site to site," Hanna explains. "A lot of it is done under an NDA, so you can't share information as you would with a normal product."