Jerry Hanna sits with two cups in front of him. The first is empty. The second cup is filled with thick, brown, dirty-looking water. With a slight smile, Jerry pulls out what looked like a small chunk of clear gelatin.
Jerry adds the gelatin to the cup of dirty water and swishes it around. Within seconds, the water in the cup starts to clear. Jerry then pours the dirty water into the empty cup, then back again.
“This mimics the water flow you would see in a body of water. Like a creek, ditch, or river, for example.”
As he moves the water back and forth, the dirt and sediment begin to clump together. Less than 30 seconds later, the water is completely clear, and sediment rested at the bottom of the cup.
“See how the sediment clumps together like that and settles so quickly? In a natural setting, like a mining or construction site, large volumes of sediment, harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms, get into the receiving waters surrounding the project site. This gel product, called a gel flocculant, solves the problem by accelerating the sediment settling so it falls out in a specific or designated area prior to release into the fish-bearing waters.”
The beginning of Clearflow, Jerry’s company, follows the quintessential story: it started with a friend, a problem, and an experiment in the basement of his house.
“A geologist friend called me to express his frustration at the water treatment process his company was encountering, as the solutions they found were not performing well and the company was facing regulatory fines. After trying various products available in the current market, I knew I could find a better solution. I set up a small test lab in my basement with a fish tank, dye, water, and pumps. After numerous tests and various formulations, the water came out clear and the first gel flocculant was developed. The water quality inspired the company’s name: I noticed the water coming out clear and coined the solution Clearflow,” Jerry recalls.
Thanks to his prior work in the heavy construction industry, Jerry was familiar with water quality and treatment requirements, and thought he might be able to create something that would solve water treatment issues without causing environmental concerns.
Prior to the launch of Clearflow’s technology, many companies relying on water and requiring water treatment systems had been using liquid flocculants for many years, but they required trained technicians and very expensive pump systems to inject into the water. The liquid flocculants they used were also highly toxic to fish and other organisms, and companies were starting to face huge regulatory fines— sometimes into the millions of dollars. Little remained that was truly environmentally friendly and affordable.
“What [monitoring organizations] found was companies were just dealing with the environmental impacts by building ponds and containers, and micro-dosing the water with chemicals. After rain events, they would have too much dosing which would kill fish and affect the water quality,” says Jerry. “I wanted to think of it holistically—treating water, soil runoff, everything.”
Instead, Clearflow’s gel block flocculant solution relies on the flow of the water around it to self-dose and self-limit the treatment material. This allows the solution to be used right away, without complicated installation or maintenance.
“Basically, all it needs is a water flow. The water runs over the block, and it cleans the water. It is ideal in remote areas, or areas that cannot afford regular maintenance and monitoring. This is why it has been so popular in Canada. You can install it in a creek, river, or pond, and if the water freezes or water levels drop for a bit, the solution self-regulates. It’s the most environmentally-friendly solution on the market.”
Alberta’s Innovative Environment
Clearflow has since grown exponentially. The company has an office in the US,a distributorship in the UK, and have entered the market in Europe, India, Nigeria, and Brazil, and Suriname. Its solution is unique because complex technology is not needed to ensure its functionality, which is attractive to regions with terrain that is difficult to access regularly.
Jerry found that while introducing a new solution to the market was initially met with challenges, once he demonstrated success with one large company, the others started calling for his help. He credits this success to his team of talented and dedicated people with a passion for saving the watersheds and understanding that water is a Global issue. He also feels that he has been blessed to have the support of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
“This region has always been a bit of a wild west in that it’s always been innovative and developmental. If you look back at history of Alberta, with all the wildcatting and farmers, that lifestyle is very innovative, wanting to figure out how to do things on their own—and quickly. Always progressing faster than the pace of what was already available.”