It has become clear to those that really care about the environment, that initiatives toward a sustainable planet are no longer an option – they are a necessity. Individuals and businesses have to change their strategies to effectively address the environmental challenges before us.
For businesses in particular, the door to a new marketplace has been opened. Those companies that embrace the concept of environmentally friendly products and adopt clean technologies as their brand are surpassing the rest as global movers and shakers.
In fact, according to Canada’s Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), exports for the clean technology sector are poised for significant growth. And a report from Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables for clean technology stated: “Global clean technology activity is expected to exceed $2.5 trillion by 2022,” with clean technology expected to be one of Canada’s top five exporting industries by 2025.
Cypher Environmental, headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is proving to be a key player on the clean technology global stage as evidenced by its 180 percent growth last year. Founded in 2010 by President Todd Burns, the company is a leading producer of completely environmentally-friendly soil stabilization and dust control solutions.
“We stay lean,” says Burns. “All of our products are manufactured in automated production lines that are controlled by programmable logic controllers (PLCs).”
With approximately twenty-five employees, Cypher Environmental has cultivated a healthy global distribution network with numerous distributors in forty countries for its EarthZyme® and Dust Stop® solutions.
“We manufacture everything in Winnipeg,” continues Burns. “We own all of our own intellectual property and our own formulas. We have published papers and case studies on our technologies, and we built up this huge global brand. In a short number of years, the company has really taken off.”
Cypher was founded on its EarthZyme technology, “which stabilizes high clay content material. Normally, clay is marginal in terms of its engineering properties,” Burns explains, adding that when clay is dry it is somewhat strong, but when wet, water is absorbed and the clay will swell and lose its strength properties. “So it’s not deemed as a suitable input for roads.” In small concentrations, clay may be suitable when used as a binder for other materials, but generally “high clay content materials are frowned upon in terms of road building.”
Clay is abundant around the world. “There are a lot of areas with excessive amounts of clay and there’s no rock available to build roads,” so typically, it is difficult to find adequate road building materials in these regions. This is what makes EarthZyme so attractive, as it now allows for the use of these high clay content materials to build higher performance roads.
“Depending on where you’re located in the world, they’ll have different specs for road building material, and it includes different percentages and sizes of gravels and sands and eventually silt and clay,” Burns explains. “But you want a very small percentage of silt and clay. Quite often there’s an abundance of clay and a shortage of gravel, so people are left to figure out how to work with the materials that they have.”
As well, high clay content material is stabilized using available aggregate for road construction to reduce the concentration of lime or cement that may need to be added for stabilization. “Both those technologies are expensive and also have their drawbacks,” says Burns. “We give you the ability to stabilize the clay at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. EarthZyme itself is a highly concentrated liquid product. One liter of EarthZyme treats 33 cubic meters of compacted material, which is a tiny fraction compared to the amount of lime or cement that would be required.”
The product can be used in any type of road construction, especially in the mining industry, which is its primary target market. “It’s mixed with water and applied to the soil or the road building material.
In mining, roads are unpaved inside an open pit mine or underground and 250 ton to 400 ton trucks travelling the roads can weigh up to 700 tons when loaded. “You can imagine the force on the road and the damage it causes to the road if it’s not stable,” says Burns.
“We also reduce the deflection in the road, and therefore, there’s less friction between the road and the tire. There’s less energy required to propel that haul truck from point A to point B.” Mining companies are using EarthZyme to make their roads “more fuel efficient and more productive. We’re talking about stabilizing the road to reduce the operating costs for our customer.”
Burns reviewed a case study published in China from one of Cypher’s flagship customers: Shenhua Mining Group. The study “suggests they reduced their fuel consumption of major-haul trucks by 17.4 percent, due to the reduced rolling resistance on the road.”
He explains that ‘rolling resistance’ is a measure of deflection – how the road moves when something heavy is being driven on it. EarthZyme increases road density, increases Californian bearing ratio (CBR), and reduces swell. The Californian bearing ratio (CBR) is a way of defining the strength of various road materials.
Cypher’s Dust Stop formulation is primarily used on roads and unpaved surfaces to provide dust control. It is sometimes used in combination with EarthZyme since even if a road is stabilized with EarthZyme, a lot of fugitive dust can be generated in mining that can end up drifting on top of the stabilized surface. But because of EarthZyme’s stabilizing properties, “there’s reduced dust to begin with.” For those customers that require further waterproofing on unpaved roads, both products can be used to “help the road shed even more water.” Dust Stop comes in two forms, Liquid Concentrate and Municipal Blend.
The world’s most prevalent product for dust control is magnesium or calcium chloride. “They’re virtually the same salts that are put on the road for de-icing in the winter. We used to have just polymers for dust control, but were really pricing ourselves out of the market in terms of the municipal sector.”
Since salt is cheap it is readily used, but it has serious consequences for the natural environment. “So we developed a product that is one hundred percent environmentally friendly and non-corrosive alternative to road salt. And that’s what Dust Stop municipal blend is… We’re selling so much more of it now to the mining sector, that we’re considering changing the name!”
Both EarthZyme and Dust Stop are applied using standard equipment and techniques so it is easy for clients “to adopt our products, because there’s no specialized or expensive equipment needed to use them,” states Burns.
The staff at Cypher Environmental is comprised of civil engineers, engineering technicians, a geologist, chemists, and construction foremen, to list a few. “We have a very wide skill set,” says Burns. “We’re not a construction company per se. We manufacture products for the construction industry,” and innovation is part of the company’s “growth strategy. We’re constantly innovating and developing new applications for our products… Ultimately, we work very closely with the industries that we sell to such as mining. By understanding what the needs are of our mining clients are, we can better tweak our products to meet those needs.”
Training is a big part of Cypher Environmental’s relationships with clients and distributors. The company is “very hands-on. We’re going to send a construction foreman out and train you on how to apply the product. He’s going to be there every step of the way,” says Burns. “It’s mandatory for us to provide training to a distributor. When we sign a new distributor agreement, a part of the agreement suggests that they need to bring one of our product specialists on-site to train them.” This training extends beyond that of on-site into the classroom, “so they actually understand it from a technical perspective before they can actually go out and build the road.”
The company encourages all distributors to “network, get together to know each other and support each other.” Burns is proud to share that the company holds an annual distributor meeting, the second of which was held in 2019 in Winnipeg, where the company is headquartered.
Some distributors are being introduced to the company through “local trade commissioners on the ground in the various markets,” explains Burns. Sometimes when approached by a new distributor, the company cannot always verify that what is being stated is in fact the truth, but trade commissioners assist with this. “Due diligence is one of the biggest things we use the trade commissioners for.”
Then contact will be made with a potential distributor and the local trade commissioner who knows the market and culture in a region much better. “It really gives us boots on the ground at a much lower cost,” he adds.
Much of the company’s research and development happens at its laboratories at company headquarters, and a strategic alliance has been formed with Red River College and Brandon University in Manitoba, which serve as supporters of its research.
“Our products are totally proprietary,” says Burns. “All the products we’re manufacturing are to our specs and our formulas. To our knowledge, there’s nobody doing anything exactly the same as us.”
Although some competitors are using polymers, molasses, or tree sap for dust control, these are “not engineered products. They don’t have an engineering focus like we do. We’re very focused on understanding the engineering properties of soils, not just for the EarthZyme product but also for Dust Stop.”
Cypher Environmental’s particular challenge would be overcoming “risk aversion and customers wanting to try something new, to convince them that we’re not the same as our competitors.”
So what is next for Cypher Environmental? “We’re outgrowing our current production lines as well as outgrowing the supply chain here in Manitoba,” says Burns. “I think some satellite manufacturing plants are going to be next. We’re on the verge of closing some major deals in South America and Southern Africa.” And in 2020, the company will have “a commercially-available, environmentally-friendly, non-corrosive alternative to salt for de-icing. We’re pretty excited about it,” he says.
“We help reduce the environmental footprint by using more environmentally friendly sustainable products, but simultaneously reduce [clients] operating costs at the same time.”