Monday, January 10, 2011

Local company tackles oil and grease

(Courtesy of the Courier-Tribune )

Mike Bullins finishes the assembly of a Big Dipper model W-250-IS at Thermaco, a manufacturer of grease and oil removal units in Asheboro. Thermaco delivers its environmentally friendly devices to restaurants and businesses worldwide.

J.D. Walker
January 7, 2011

ASHEBORO — A small industry in Asheboro is taking global steps to help combat pollution.

Thermaco, makers of the Big Dipper and Trapzilla automatic grease and oil removal units, has a presence around the globe including Mexico, England, Ireland and Kurdistan, not to mention hundreds of restaurants and industries across the U.S.

Later in February, Owen George, global marketing analyst, will journey with a team of representatives from the state Department of Commerce and North Carolina business leaders to India. Others on the team will be there to promote both the state and North Carolina business products.

George will be there on behalf of Thermaco.

“I expect to meet with people in charge of water works departments in large cities and representatives of industries that relate to our products,” he said.

George said Thermaco machines filter organic oils from water in restaurant, educational, business and industrial applications. These innovative products have always been a good idea from an environmental standpoint, he said.

“Now, local and state governments are realizing they make sense from a cost-saving standpoint, too,” he said.

In a recent report, the City of San Francisco estimated it spent $3.5 million to unclog city water/sewer pipes. The biggest culprit was grease from homes and restaurants, George said. On the Thermaco website, George said Wichita, Kan., a city of 350,000 population, found 85 percent of their sewer line problems were caused by grease accumulation in the piping.

It’s not just a problem in the U.S. George said Mexico City recently underwent a major infrastructure improvement, removing the old city’s antique water and sewer lines. After fixing the infrastructure problem, George said officials realized they had not fixed the source of the problem — the many restaurants in the old city, flushing greasy water into the new system.

George said a major push is under way now to require all restaurants in that city to have some type of active filtering system to stop the problem before it starts.

The technology that goes into making Thermaco’s grease and oil removal units is constantly evolving. David Lillard, Thermaco marketing manager, said the company employs 10 workers to assemble and test the Big Dippers and Trapzillas it sells. The company’s lead engineer, Bruce Kyles, works constantly to improve on the technology.

The Big Dipper works in a wide range of venues from small “Mom and Pop” restaurants to large operations like the multiple restaurants at Brown University in Rhode Island. It is a replacement for the grease trap technology that George said is more than 100 years old.

As many people who have worked in the restaurant industry know, the dreaded grease trap is a device installed between the kitchen drain and the building sewer to trap and retain fats and grease from kitchen waste lines.

It is frequently installed in the floor under a wash sink or dishwasher. George said the grease trap is only 25 percent effective at removing grease from waste water. Periodically, it has to be manually cleaned — a dirty, smelly job.

George said the Big Dipper sits on top of the floor under the wash sink or dishwasher. It can be installed at any practical spot between the point of origin for waste water and public water/sewer lines.

Waste water flows through a containment unit. An automated wheel periodically skims grease from the water and discards it into a grease collection container.

This container can be emptied as needed into the restaurant’s main grease collection bin to be picked up by a waste byproducts company for recycling into a variety of useful products from biodiesel to cosmetic additives.

The Trapzilla works in a similar manner on a much larger scale.

Thermaco isn’t new to the business scene. Owners Bill and Susan Batten founded the company in 1983. As an entrepreneur with an MBA from Duke University, Batten saw the potential in a little-known wastewater treatment product which led to his purchasing the Big Dipper technology in 1985. Since then it has sold 22,000 units globally.

Back in the day, the Thermaco solution to FOG (fats, oil and grease) management was seen mainly as a way to avoid large plumbing costs and prevent pollution. It still does that, George said.

But in today’s fuel-hungry world, collecting FOG from wastewater has another money-making appeal. FOG can be filtered and turned into biofuel. George said San Francisco has already made major strides in this area.

Launched in 2007, the city’s SFGreasecycle is a citywide effort that diverts FOG away from the sewers and turns it into biofuel. The city’s fleet of 1,500 diesel vehicles was converted to run on B20 biodiesel the same year. The city government is collecting used cooking oil from city restaurants for free and recycling it into biodiesel, an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum diesel.

FOG continues to be a resource in the production of some lubricants, soaps, animal feed and cosmetics.

Lillard said Thermaco’s product lines continue to evolve. The R&D department works on a low-cost and unique separator, adapted to the need of emerging markets.

The importance of this technology cannot be understated. George said clean water issues can only be expected to grow in importance as the world’s population grows.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Owen George Joins Charlotte Global Business Conference

(Charlotte, N. C., January 6, 2011)

The Business Innovation & Growth Council (BIG) and the North Carolina Department of Commerce will present a conference entitled “Global Business Development” on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at the Mint Museum Auditorium in Uptown Charlotte from 1:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., immediately followed by a cocktail reception from 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Keynote speaker, Marco Fregenal of Evoapp (formerly founder and CEO of Carpio), will open the conference and lead the way for panel discussions on targeting international markets. Scheduled panel speakers will bring a wealth of experience in global business to the sessions. Anthony Foxx, Mayor of Charlotte, along with Jean Davis, Director of International Trade for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, will close the day with a wrap up and call to action.

“No matter how small your company is, this is an excellent opportunity to learn how to expand your business globally,” says Terry Thorson Cox, President and CEO of the BIG Council. “There are 1.9 billion internet users worldwide,” she exclaims, hinting at the opportunity and growth available through global markets. Currently, only 1% of small and mid-sized companies in America get a majority of their revenues through foreign sales, whereas approximately 30% of Fortune 500 companies generate more than 50% of their revenue globally.

Proponents of increased export activity want to change that ratio for the success of small and mid-sized businesses but also for the larger goal of boosting the economies of cities across North Carolina and of the state as a whole.

In a September 16, 2010 op-ed to the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx wrote, “My top priority as mayor is to help lead Charlotte to sustained economic recovery and strong job growth. I strongly believe that part of the answer lies in helping more Charlotte businesses, particularly small businesses, sell goods and services to markets around the globe.”

“Supporting companies’ global expansion interests and better yet, peaking their interest in going global is critical to the economic recovery for North Carolina and the U.S.,” voices Teresa Spangler, CEO of the Plaza Bridge Group and President of the World Trade Association. “The rest of the world has a great need for the innovative products that North Carolina companies are creating. We do not want to ignore the rapid pace of growth that is upon these emerging economic markets.”

The speakers hope to get small and mid-sized businesses in the Charlotte area out to hear real experiences from company leaders and encourage them to consider taking advantage of available resources and the opportunity to increase sales in the emerging markets such as Brazil, India, China and neighbors such as South America and Canada.

“This is meant to be a tactical event that helps people identify great markets and shares with them how others have built their overseas businesses as well as mistakes to avoid,” says Jean Davis, Director of International Trade for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “We’ll walk through the mechanics of international sales.”

Many businesses choose not to participate in global business development opportunities as they are intimidated by the perceived challenges more than they are intrigued by the possible profits. “The information available through the real life experiences of these speakers could change this outlook,” says Jim Roberts, former Business Development Manager with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and Director of Membership Services for the Center of Innovation for NanoBiotechnology.

The city [Charlotte], state and federal governments all have new goals and initiatives to help businesses have more access to international business development opportunities. In August of 2010, Mayor Foxx kicked off the Export Charlotte initiative following the North Carolina Export initiative which, in turn, reflects President Obama’s goal to double U.S. exports and create 2 million jobs by 2015. The North Carolina Department of Commerce is working with the Small Business Association and partners like BIG and the Charlotte Chamber to roll out new opportunities. Together they endeavor to provide a program of seminars and educational events as well as mission trips to increase export activity. “Our job to help North Carolina businesses export $25 billion in products and services each year,” says Davis.

Foxx reported that in a June report, the Brookings Institute found that in 2008, export-related activity supported 7.7 million jobs in the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas. Charlotte's metropolitan area was ranked 29th with more than $10 billion in exports that support 72,000 jobs. “Imagine what a doubling of our exporting output would pay off with in local jobs!” says Foxx.

The Brookings report said many small businesses lack the tools and information to develop a plan for exporting, according to Foxx. “This causes these small businesses to perceive exporting as risky, something best left to big business. That must change,” explains Foxx.

Panel speaker Owen George, Director of Owen George Global Strategies, plans his remarks around the many logistical issues of exporting. “North Carolina exports everything from barbeque sauce to school busses; there are many different issues to know about.” Distribution and shipping, for instance, are always major factors, according to George, a North Carolina native who has succeeded in global business for the past two decades, first in South America; then in Asia. “We missed the recession because of the export business!” he shares.

Moving back to North Carolina a few years ago, George discovered a strong demand and need to provide skills and strategy for companies that wanted to be part of the global marketplace. That demand continues as North Carolina is transforming itself in to major player in the global market, according to George. “It’s worth their while to take this opportunity,” he says. “Anyone that has an innovative idea can compete.”

George and Moderator Norman Cohen of Specialty Chemicals for Textiles agree that innovation, quality and brand are the components that will build a global business. “A company needs an innovation or interesting technology to compete with, and in some cases, avoid competition from India and China,” says Cohen. “What makes your product stand out?” queries George.

“The impact [of this type of education] will drive further opportunities for companies to innovate to new needs, to collaborate in ways they’ve not done before and to be open to brand new ideas and cultures that will inspire us to kick up growth for the US markets again,” sums up Spangler.

Media please contact Terry Thorson Cox at 704/927-8064 or through email at