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Water treatment WITHOUT chemicals

Wolverine Plastic Technologies is a 13-press custom molder based in Ada, MI, just east of Grand Rapids. Until a year ago, says maintenance supervisor Mike Ward, Wolverine was spending about $800 each month maintaining and repairing clogged, corroded, and caked heat exchangers, heating elements, and other components of the water system. "That doesn't include the labor of me or anyone else here at the plant," says Ward.

That labor was often hard as Ward had to chisel and chip away at calcium and other deposits that were crippling his water distribution system. "It was an everyday deal," reports Ward. He says he tried several chemical treatment systems, but with little success. The minimum flow rate for each water line going into and out of a mold at Wolverine is 1.5 gal/minute, with rates as high as 3 or 4 gal/minute on larger presses. Ward says several parts were flashing, shorting, and running hot. When he checked the molds to see if they were getting enough water, "it wasn't even showing on our flow meters, that's how bad it was," he explains.

Several suppliers recommended he shock his system with hydrochloric acid to slough off the buildup. "You know, with all that copper piping, it doesn't take but three or four shocks with acid before you really have problems," Ward says.

He was also concerned about the kinds of chemicals he was dumping into the environment. The companies supplying his chemical-based water treatment systems were understandably reluctant to divulge to Ward the proprietary recipe for their systems. Looking desperately for a system that works, last summer Ward and Wolverine put the word out that they were looking for a chemical-free water treatment system. That's when they heard from Innovative Water Technologies (IWT), just down the road in Kentwood, MI.

What IWT showed Wolverine was its TowerKlean cooling tower water treatment system, a chemical-free system that left Ward skeptical to start. The system is admittedly spare at first glance. It consists mainly of an electrical box, a stainless steel filter housing, some piping, and a tall, narrow, cylindrical reaction tower. "I kind of laughed when I first saw it," says Ward.

Wolverine installed the Tower-Klean and started running its water through the system. On its third day in operation, says Ward, the water system had so much scaling sloughing off and breaking loose that he had to shut down the entire system to clean his cooling tower. Two weeks later Wolverine had another massive slough-off, purging the system for good. Ward hasn't looked back since.

So how does it work? It's actually simple. At the bottom of that tall, narrow, cylindrical reaction tower is a proprietary nonchemical, nonhazardous mixture that creates the same chemical reaction as oxidizers and reducers. The mixture, says IWT president Joel Kusmierz, is a patented alloy of 50 percent copper and 50 percent zinc granules. When water passes across the surface of this medium, an electrochemical reaction is generated that controls algae, biofouling, and scaling. The reacted contaminants then pass through a sand filter in the stainless steel housing; they are backflushed out of the filter when buildup reaches a certain pressure.

Molding problems related to water quality and flow are now history for Wolverine, says Ward. The water, he reports, is crystal clear. Recent tests for the presence of algae in the system showed levels were "phenomenally low," according to Ward.

Kusmierz admits that the simplicity and unconventional operation of the TowerKlean leaves many skeptical at first, but he's met many molders who've reached the end of their rope with chemical-based systems and are willing to try the system. "The norm has always been chemicals," he says. "That's been the comfortable technology, even though it doesn't take care of all of the problems." Kusmierz says that at NPE this year he met a potential customer who'd just pumped hydrochloric acid through his water system to clean it out - damaging much of his equipment in the process. "He said he'd wished he'd met us sooner."

The copper/zinc medium, says Kusmierz, lasts 12 to 14 months, at which time the surface area effectiveness of the metallic granules starts to decline. The customer can either take the material to a local metal recycler, or send it back to IWT, who will recycle it. Kusmierz says replacing the copper/zinc mix can be done easily and costs about $400. The only threat to the medium is oil or grease, which coats the granules, creating a barrier the water cannot penetrate. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Wash the granules in detergent and put them back to work.

The TowerKlean is looped off of your cooling tower's reservoir. Capacities for the system range from 20 gal/minute to 100 gal/minute; respective prices range from $12,640 to $23,890. Ward says the Wolverine TowerKlean has already paid for itself. He replaces his first batch of copper/zinc medium this month.

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