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Archive for the ‘Green Savings’ Category

SpiroFlo summarizes the (to date) two-year saga of Flint’s water crisis and the need for clean water technologies.

Flint Water

LeeAnne Walters displays tap water samples at a public meeting in January 2015. Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/ZUMA

If you’ve heard of one water story in 2016 it’s the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. If you aren’t familiar, here are the highlights:

  • In April 2014, Flint changes its water source from Detroit Water (which is treated from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs. Although residents complain about the water—its appearance, odor, and flavor—they are assured by city officials that the water is fine (a trend that will continue in the months following). These issues will later be tied to Flint River water being highly corrosive to the aging pipes, leaching unsafe levels of lead into the tap water supply.
  • By August 2014, coliform bacteria (which indicates disease-causing organisms in water) are detected in Flint tap water, prompting city officials to issue a boil advisory. A couple of months later, a General Motors plant ceases using Flint’s municipal water, saying it corrodes their car parts.
  • In January 2015, Detroit Water essentially acknowledges the problem when they offer to switch the city of Flint back without the $4 million reconnection fee. However, Flint’s state appointed emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, declines the offer and, again, state officials downplay the problem.
  • In February 2015, a Flint resident, LeeAnne Walters, conducts a home water test prompted by her children experiencing hair loss, rashes, and stunted growth. Results show 104 parts per billion of lead in the drinking water and, despite there being no safe level for lead in water, the EPA requires action at lead levels of 15 parts per billion, as elevated of levels of lead in blood can lead to permanent brain damage.
  • In the months following, consultants and state officials insist Flint’s water meets state and federal standards. Meanwhile, the EPA keeps finding high lead levels in Flint water. In August 2015, the Department of Environmental Quality tells Flint to optimize corrosion control (while still denying conclusions drawn by water experts on the harm caused by Flint’s water).
  • In October 2015, Flint city officials begin acknowledging the depth of the problem, urging residents to stop drinking their water. They expand recommendations, distribution of filters, and testing of both the water and people’s blood. The same month, Dan Wyant, the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality, reports that his staff mistakenly used water testing steps for a city half the size of Flint, prompting independent review.
  • In December 2015, Flint declares a state of emergency. President Obama does the same in January 2016, providing the National Guard (to hand out bottled water, filters, and testing kits in the worst-hit neighborhoods) and up to $5+ million in aid. However, Flint officials will later state that the cost of fixing this could be up to $1.5 billion.

Since that time, it’s all been criticisms and finger-pointing. Outside of an apology and an urging for the state to spend $28 million on fixes, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been quiet on what he knew, but protesters have marched outside his home and called for his resignation and arrest. Some believe Flint’s failures are exacerbated by an ongoing disinterest in this largely poor, majority-black city (and poor areas as a whole). There are class action lawsuits and potential manslaughter charges. There are celebrity concerns, with Beyoncé, Cher, the Detroit Lions, the Game, Mark Wahlberg, Pearl Jam, P. Diddy and others sending donations and water bottles to Flint.

And yes, even the ultimate gauge of social awareness, our Twitter feed (@useh2o), has been largely focused on the Flint water crisis these last chunk of months.

However, others note that this water crisis goes far deeper: Environmental activist, Erin Brockovich believes Flint’s water issue could be a national problem. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore put up a letter on his website, noting that people cannot help undo the damage caused to these children, their parents, and life in Flint as a result. Instead of sending bottled water—which will take 20.4 million 16 oz. bottles per day for the next two years (that’s 14,892,000,000 bottles of water for those of you counting along at home)—he recommends revolt.

What I will say is that this tragedy may finally—finally—get Americans to care about water issues. Although current concerns are rightfully on the health of Flint’s residents, the environmental impact will go far beyond potentially 14.9 trillion plastic water bottles. Since 2006. SpiroFlo has worked to reduce the amount of water used and to improve the quality of what’s left in various industries. Water is one of earth’s finest resources and a cornerstone for our survival. Once tainted, we see the ramifications, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Yet even in clean tech circles, there has been little interest in saving and purifying water. While seemingly everything else—wind, solar, nanotechnology, and for some reason, even healthcare software—has had its turn as the environmental buzzword, the importance of clean, available water now has an unfortunate unavoidable example right here in the USA.

Here’s to this awareness prompting change for the good of the world’s water supply and our health.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

 

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SpiroFlo looks at how environmental issues and personal health issues became linked.

Last week, I met with a company interested in partnering with SpiroFlo as part of their “energy oasis”—essentially redesigning how cities are built to make them more energy efficient. For SpiroFlo, we have two main applications in residential water:

  • Reducing water consumption and improving the quality of what is used (both for drinking water and shower quality); and
  • Reducing pressures required on water pumps, saving energy and reducing wear.

As we connected, the owner of this energy oasis company mentioned that he was midway through dropping 50+ pounds. At least part of the reason for this weight loss is because he works in clean tech and, in his words, “Environmentalists don’t like fat guys.”

Well, then…

fat squirrel

Thank you, “Animal Obesity” section of Wikimedia Commons; I couldn’t have written this article without you.

I wouldn’t say environmentalists specifically dislike overweight people, but I’ve acknowledged this connection before—that environmental and personal health issues are tied. Yet when I think about why this is the case, the logic doesn’t work. You could hypothecate that someone who doesn’t care about their own health won’t care about the health of the planet, but it’s just that—a theory. Besides, if your stance on the health of the earth can be tied to your personal health, why not make meaningful assumptions based off the health of a person’s car (how often they wash it, change their oil, etc.) or the health of their home (how often they clean, etc.). Granted, homes and cars aren’t living, but to connect personal and environmental “health,” you do have to stretch the term.

Yet the perceived connection between environmentalism and personal health is still there, regardless of whether I can logically separate the two. So I set out to see if there was a credible connection between physical health and environmental health.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t.

This then brings us back to one major explanation: Bias.

We all have bias, and the more accepted ones bubble to the surface.

There’s a theory that says fat and/or bald people can’t win the U.S. presidency in this visual era. That makes sense, as we all know a politician like Winston Churchill made great decisions because of his Adonis physique and flowing Fabio hair. But he’s a Brit, so bad example anyway.

Maybe we can turn to art to help point out these foolish fallacies. No wait, that won’t work. Last time we got “Shallow Hal.” If you’re fortunate enough to not remember “Shallow Hal,” well, your luck has run out. It was a 2001 romantic comedy where a fat guy named Hal (played by Jack Black) is only attracted to gorgeous women until real-life, big-toothed, self-help Guru Tony Robbins hypnotizes him into viewing women’s physical appearances based on the goodness of their hearts. (Yup, Tony Robbins hypnotizing people to see inner beauty… this is the actual plot line.) What you got next was Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, so that she could play both the skinny inner beauty version of her character and the actual version of her character that was overweight, because skinny is automatically beautiful and fat is automatically ugly, see?

Also, according to this movie, everyone who is physically unattractive has a fat heart of gold. No pandering there, and it totally doesn’t sound hollow after making a slew of stereotypical fat jokes. Really, you can find far deeper criticism of “Shallow Hal,” but the biggest offense is that for all the social faux pas it offered, it was still a crap flick. You can get away with a whole lot more if you’re actually funny.

Regardless, the tie between how you take care of your own body and how you take care of the earth is there, even if it shouldn’t be. Thus you’ve got one more reason to make your New Year’s resolution to get to the gym. It’s not like having a sustainable, green technology will get you taken seriously by the clean tech crowd. Mother Nature cares about those abs.

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Have a great New Year. We’ll see you in 2016.

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo and Vortex Tools comment on changes in Colorado—both in the recession of oil & gas and the rise of the marijuana industry.Marijuana

Despite being the VP Marketing for multiple companies, it’s rare I do a crossover blog where I represent more than one company at a time, as the marketing reality that most people only care about stories that impact their industry or scratch their interest (duh). However, since the business landscape in Colorado has shifted over the last year, we’ve seen changes that affect different industries, so here we go. Firstly:

Oil and Gas Has Scaled Back Out of Colorado

Overall, it’s been a brutal year for oil and gas. The top four global companies scaled back 10% of their work force… and that was just the beginning. The cuts have continued and spread to smaller companies. Companies have scaled back to their core assets, selling off the rest, and for most, those core assets aren’t in Colorado. Blame asset valuations, blame stricter regulations, but week after week, formerly prominent oil and gas companies are leaving Colorado,* or filing for bankruptcy, or, at the very least, not spending money on anything.

*Usually right about here I’d link up a few stories of this happening, but there are so, so many. Right now you can Google “Denver oil and gas company” every week and pop up a negative story, but hey, gasoline prices are low, so many don’t care.

Most analysts now believe oil and gas prices will not recover until 2017. Prices have dipped again in October and November this year due to refinery maintenance season (during times of cheap oil, they’re at high capacity, so any time one goes down for a period of time, it hurts an already stressed market). In addition, many wells are currently shut in, so when prices do inch up a bit, everyone’s going to rush to take advantage of that gain, flood the market with production glut, and, you got it,  tank the price again.

This means it should be a time of improving existing production—lowering operation costs, recovering more production/valuable liquids (condensates and natural gas liquids), and avoiding environmental fines (easiest way: by not polluting)—the kinds of applications Vortex Tools enable, but many of the employees who are left are just keeping their heads down and trying not to get laid off. This should also be a time of asset expansion for smart investors (the adage of “buy low, sell high” still applies), but for many oil and gas companies, they’re not doing much of anything save staving off going out of business.

At the same time:

Marijuana is Booming in Colorado

As one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, a whirlwind of industry has set up around this venture, but it’s still a complicated (and energy intensive) market. Energy companies call pot one of the most energy intensive ventures. In one Colorado service area, retail marijuana makes up for ~1% of retail electricity use. Increased electricity use was one of the ways (illegal) pot growers used to get caught—turns out when your electricity bills spike several times over what they used to be, people take notice, and the assumption is you aren’t just plugging in a slew of outlet air fresheners.

In addition to high electricity use, the marijuana industry uses a lot of water, and currently, what’s going down the drain untreated shouldn’t be (lots of nitrates, fertilizers, chemicals, etc.). Most everyone involved in the industry is surprised that the law hasn’t changed yet and that it’s a matter of time until it does. However, there’s a misconception that the marijuana industry has a lot of money, but most players do not. Once laws change to get more stringent, a lot of smaller operations that hopped into this growing industry will burn out. In addition, the marijuana industry has also been sold a lot of snake oil already, so there’s a lot of skepticism for even valid solutions.

That’s where SpiroFlo comes in. With no moving parts and no additional energy source required, there are two main applications we work in: 1) Reducing the amount of water used and improving the water quality/oxygen content of what’s left: Basically improved hydroponics—growing better plants faster with fewer resources. 2) Removing contaminants from water drainage: Most people expect the laws to change on this within the next 12 months, so spinning out contaminants from water used for marijuana will become important (and will be a determining factor in which companies go out of business). Given that we’ve done similar applications in other markets, we’ve got both credibility and low operating expenses covered.

As a company, SpiroFlo sat down and discussed the moral side of it, as marijuana is in a strange place: It’s legal in certain states, but not nationally, which causes issues with banking and credit. Then investors want to play games, too. They recognize there’s money to be made here, but they don’t want the negative association. Currently the general rule is: If you touch the plant, investors can’t fund you. However, if you help the people who do touch the plant, then they can fund you.

Yeah…

Anyway, we sat down as a company and had the moral conversation on marijuana and the conclusion we came to is this: When it comes to industries you can’t work with for moral reasons, where do you draw the line? What issues are more important than others? Even in Vortex Tools’ work in oil and gas, there are people who don’t like the industry enough to acknowledge the value in our tools reducing pollution, energy, and operational costs while increasing the efficiency and revenue generators from the oil and gas production. Regardless, some issues are gimmes to avoid (hint: you don’t have to discuss them as an organization, or if you do, you’ll be doing so in prison), marijuana isn’t. Not anymore. So we looked at our company goal as SpiroFlo, which is to reduce water use and improve the quality of the water left. Regardless of what different employees thought of the marijuana industry, we agreed that while it’s here, we should do what we can to improve water use.

Colorado Business is Going to Look Different

So overall, what this means is that oil and gas in Colorado will be replaced by the marijuana industry. However, that’s not the only business sector being replaced; it’s happening all over. There is little warehouse/retail space left to lease and what is left over is high above market value. Due to the population influx, residential rents are above what they should be, too. Yet all of this could bend as laws become more stringent or more states legalize marijuana. For now, this is a common sentiment from many Coloradoans:

stop-moving-to-colorado-bumper-sticker-car-1024x768

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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I think you and I are gonna be friends

Vortex Tools will take part in a shark tank during Denver Startup Week (9/16-9/20). We’ll present sometime between 3-4:15 PM on Wednesday, September 18th.

With our application in reducing CO2 emissions and recovering 10 times more natural gas liquids than pigging alone, Vortex Tools has been invited to present at a shark tank (read: aggressively judged competition) during Denver Startup week—a five-day event to promote clean energy applications in Colorado.

Given that it’s a shark tank, it won’t be pretty. Either we’ll win or I’ll wind up playing the role of a great white shark on some judge’s leg (all I need to do is get two rows of jagged teeth and then figure out how to dislocate my jaw for better snacking).

If nothing else, anything remotely shark-related is an excuse to share two minutes of idiocy from “Sharknado.” This montage is not safe for work (or safe for anyone with more than 50 brain cells):

For more on Denver Startup Week events, see here.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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cleantech open logoI’m pleased to announce that SpiroFlo qualified as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Cleantech Open (CTO) for our residential hot water savings and industrial biofilm removal applications.

If you’ve followed this blog—gnawing on every tasty word (and why wouldn’t you?)—you’d know that I had a lot to say, good and bad, about going through the 2012 CTO as Vortex Tools. A fair question then to ask is: Why are you doing it again?

There are two main reasons:

  1. The Cleantech Open receives criticism and makes changes: I’m not going to say that all the changes came from what I said—common problems become commonly shared complaints—but I’m as blunt in-person and I had opportunity to share my thoughts with the CTO planners. Regardless of how it happened, this year they’ve changed the overall judging scheme. I still think they’re going to be painfully shorthanded volunteer-wise, but I’m willing to wait and see.
  2. SpiroFlo is a better fit: Last year, we entered thinking that the CTO is a competition, and chose our more established, more successful green oil and gas company, Vortex Tools. While the CTO is a competition, it’s designed more to accelerate smaller companies, making SpiroFlo a better fit.

I highly doubt I’ll write as much on the CTO as I did before, but I do like that it keeps me apprised of innovation in the green sector, as well as the same old flawed thinking that doesn’t seem to budge. Odds are there will be a speaker who, A) believes nuclear energy and/or oil and gas can be done away with today; and B) we can do so because of what some non-American country (usually Japan or somewhere in Europe) is doing with wind and solar.

I’m a fan of some of these technologies—living in a dry state, seeing what Germany has done to implement green roofs makes me jealous—but there’s a misguided belief among some environmentalists that multi-year, best scenario projections will equate to reality. Even by favorable estimates, Japan’s current wind and solar use could offset maybe 10% of their nuclear energy use, and that’s before you get into the painful realities of what happens when you try to move large amounts of business from one entity to another.

However it goes, I’m sure I’ll annoy some people when I take to the microphone. I’m looking forward to it.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools explains why, with fuel costs and slim profit margins, the airline industry is one of the likeliest to not go green.

By Flickr user Axwel [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsI’ve mouthed off a lot about airlines lately (see here and here). Maybe it’s just that I’m experiencing their joys and troubles more often from traveling. For instance, the fact that a plane can leave the gate, then stall on the runway while luggage gets loaded on late, while still allowing the airline to check the box for an “on time” departure is indicative of the level of meaningless standards.

But here’s my bent today: I realized a while ago that the airline industry has no motivation to go green.

Many environmentalists don’t like oil and gas, but there are motivations to keep the industry cleaner. In the event of an oil spill, there are fines, cleanup costs, public relations pains, etc. In the event of too many CO2 emissions from the wellhead, the producer gets fined until they’re in compliance with air laws. Additionally, regulations keep changing—usually in a way that’s stricter on oil and gas pollution. Flaring gas is continuing to get scaled back and I doubt fracking will make it, in its current form, through another 10 years.

Vortex vapor recovery tool

Vortex vapor recovery tool

In working in the oil and gas sector—using Vortex Tools to vastly reduce CO2 emissions and to recover 10 times more valuable natural gas liquids to make a profit while burning a cleaner flare—I can tell you that all of these aspects equate to motivation to make a dirty industry cleaner.

But airlines don’t really have this kind of motivation.

Like any other industry, they can spin their efforts as green, but it’s about intent and application. Everything the airlines do is to get planes in the air with less cost. The biggest obstacle to this is the price of fuel. While they can’t control the cost of the commodity, they can control the weight they’re putting on the plane. You may be familiar with examples of airlines using lighter seats, thinner and lighter magazines, and not serving food on shorter flights.

(The exception to all these rules is if you pay a premium—for larger seats, for extra luggage, for food on the short ride.)

Then there are some uglier examples of controlling weight. While we’re seeing people get dinged for their bag being overweight, we’re also seeing examples of people getting dinged for they themselves being overweight. I get it logistically—I’m a small man and the airline experience gets me way too familiar with the odors and feel of the people around me—but you can see how this can get cruel quick. I’ve got some larger friends who understand that they need to buy a first class ticket if they want to fly comfortably, but what happens when you put these kinds of requirements on say, an obese kid?

In addition, the cynical part of me is waiting to hear some secret audio from a worldwide airline executive complaining about how fat Americans are ruining profit margins. In the mean time, Samoa Air has already introduced a “pay what you weigh” model.

During the Cleantech Open, I met a company, Molon Labe, who made a sliding airline seat. The value of this is that you could load / unload the plane faster (slide over the middle seat on your side and go), get a faster turnaround (using energy in the air instead of wasting it on the ground), and, according to them, saving airlines $75,000 a day in fuel costs (not sure how many planes would need to install their seats to get that number, but it’s still significant).

As the Cleantech Open had a large sustainability component, Molon Labe’s argument was that this kind of efficiency could allow a plane to have more flights in a day, allowing airlines to remove planes from their fleet entirely. In theory, less planes = less energy use = less environmental impact, but from what I’ve seen of this industry, less energy use + greater flight turnaround = more flights in a day. More flights in a day = more environmental impact, and, if it makes sense and the profit margin is good enough, more planes in the fleet.

It’s a reality that rarely gets pushed back on companies touting green, but more efficiency does not always equal greater sustainability.

In the end, regardless of what I think of certain airline practices, I know it’s a tough industry. The profit margins are surprisingly slim and most airline companies go bankrupt at some point. As comedian Louis CK noted, it is amazing that we can sit in chairs and fly through the sky to the other side of the world (see 2:00 on — yes, the clip is in English):

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Vortex Tools looks at a boring video interview on how Prius drivers create habits that make other drivers nuts, but nets them great gas mileage.  

By Tokumeigakarinoaoshima (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia CommonsWho’s up for a hokey interview?

Fox News recently posted an interview called “Confessions of an Annoying Prius Driver” – complete with a guy sitting in, yes, a Prius during the whole thing. He covers why Prius owners coast when coming to a stop, why they’re slow to accelerate, and how these easy-going driving habits can greatly increase your miles-per-gallon if you can avoid stressing the electric battery. If anything, the interview shows the aggressiveness of drivers around a Prius, not the annoying habits of Prius drivers themselves.

Straight up: It’s a snoozer of a video—a hook title with no payoff (thus this brief article is largely the same)—but there’s at least a whooshing graphic noise early on. Yay technology.

There you have it. I watch lousy videos so you don’t have to (but you’re on the internet, so you’ll probably find something fitting that description anyway).

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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