How a Raleigh entrepreneur is turning a cleaner into a fracking tool
Originally published in the Triangle Business Journal on July 24th, 2014
What started as a Russian anti-bacterial technology is turning into a fracking scum-fighting tool – and it’s all spearheaded by a Raleigh entrepreneur.
Raleigh-based David LaVance is the CEO of Integrated Environmental Technologies, a small, public company that’s putting a twist on what, initially, was intended as a hospital cleanser.
LaVance came on board a few years ago, invited by investors to help stabilize a company using a technology that originally came from Russia.
Specifically, it’s a chemical cleanser based on a molecule with a long name: hypochlorous acid.
“It’s a really simple molecule, but it’s very effective in killing bacteria and viruses,” LaVance explains. “In fact, it’s manufactured inside the human body as part of the immune defense system.”
But there’s a big problem: It’s hard to keep in concentration for industrial applications because the chlorine “tends to gas off.”
That’s where IET comes in, with a technology that helps keep the vital chlorine in the solution. LaVance says the solution can kill 99.9999 percent of bacteria. It’s already being used in hospitals to help disinfect surfaces.
But LaVance is thinking bigger.
“I said, holy smokes, this company has something that kills all these super bugs,” he says. He saw a market he thinks could be bigger than hospitals: Oil and gas. “Everybody is worried about toxicity. … The number one thing about oil and gas is the tremendous amounts of water that it uses. Most people are not really aware of the millions upon millions of gallons of water that are used.”
Water, typically pumped from lakes and ponds, comes with hitchhikers: Bacteria.
Bacteria is a big problem when it comes to drilling. Without a way to kill it, colonies grow “exponentially,” both deep in the ground and on the surface. Similar to the way bacteria can muck up the hulls of ships, they collect on the metal well casing, causing corrosion.
Killing the bacteria protects that equipment. And the chemical combines with hydrogen sulfide – a poisonous gas that can rise in the well – to make it inert.
The compound, called Excelyte, also makes water “more slippery,” he explains, and disintegrates in 90 days.
The innovation is already being used in more than a dozen wells. And interest is increasing. Plans are in place to open an office in Denver, and the team, which consists of about 12 employees spread across the United States, will likely expand as more miners come on board.
In fracking, a high-pressure fluid is injected into a drilled hole to create fractures that allow natural gas an escape. Last month, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that would open up North Carolina to fracking, saying it would “spur economic development at all levels of our economy, not just the energy sector.”
While LaVance and his team are an example of that economic development, they still haven’t solved what some environmentalists say is the larger issue – disposal of wastewater. Another Raleigh company, however, is exploring ways to filter hazardous materials from that water: Tethis. And it’s using a proprietary, salt-sucking sponge in its efforts.
IET has a market cap of $16.85 million, trades under IEVM and is technically headquartered in Little River, South Carolina.
Total revenues for 2013 were $146,366, but LaVance is expecting a big increase as his product expands its reach and fracking takes off.
In addition to his role at IET, he serves as chairman of the board of Hologic, a $7 billion company.
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