Joseph Mucaria, director of public works for the historic Ville de la Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, had a problem. La Chaux-de-Fonds is a picturesque and historic city in the Jura Mountains at the foot of the Swiss Alps. It is the watch-making capital of Switzerland and by extension the world (at least for analog time pieces). The citizens of La Chaux-de-Fonds, are proud of their city and very protective of the pristine mountain environment. Winter in La Chaux-de-Fonds is a beautiful season, but at times made treacherous because of icy and slippery conditions. Especially so when navigating the many hills and slopes on foot or by car. Joseph’s responsibility was to assure safe travel in these winter conditions. Road salt, as is the case hear in North America, was the default ‘go to’ for this purpose. However, awareness levels were rising as to the harm caused by road salt. Damage to historic buildings, municipal infrastructure, and the surrounding environment (especially fresh water) was becoming unacceptable. In addition, Switzerland classified road salt as a toxic substance, meaning regulatory compliance costs for storage, application, and disposal were new headaches to address. Ensuring an ecologically and economically sound alternative, without compromising citizen safety, required a new approach. Joseph's analysis quickly determined that a root cause issue was related to traction. It was necessary to provide traction for safety, but the only method to do so was to eliminate snow and ice in order to get to the original surface below. Depending on conditions, the ability to get to the underlying surface may be short lived as temperatures and winter conditions rapidly change. Therefore, it was a constant battle against winter, requiring operations to apply salt to thaw the ice whenever there was a freeze. The continual freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw cycle, in addition to the corrosive nature of the material, was causing considerable damage to property, surfaces, and structures. Furthermore, climate conditions were changing, transportation surface areas were expanding, and it required more and more road salt to meet safety needs. So, Joseph set out to find a different path. No longer would it be an engagement of battle with winter, he would find a way to be in harmony with nature. Putting a natural, non-toxic material surface on top of the ice and snow, a surface that provided the necessary traction for safe travel was the answer. Such was the seed of the idea and the beginning of ECOICEGRIP™ (StopGlissBio™ in Switzerland). Through several years of development, a product was eventually defined. A dimensionally select softwood chip at ideal moisture level and a light-weight, pH neutral, brine coating. The brine coating prevents the moisture within the chips from binding together in freezing temperatures. This allows for economical storage conditions, eases the ability to spread, and prevents jamming in equipment. Furthermore, the coating creates a slight melt where the chip is in contact with hard packed snow or ice. The melt refreezes and firmly embeds the chip in place providing stable, comfortable traction. If the snow or ice thaws naturally, when it refreezes, most of the buoyant chips will remain at the surface, and minimal, if any, replenishment is required. Therefore, it was no longer necessary for Joseph to have his crews continually apply copious amounts of corrosive material in an attempt to melt it away (often resulting in a salty, toxic slush, or short lived ice-free surface). Recognizing the growing pressure in North America to reduce road salt and other de-icing alternatives, EMC3 Technologies Inc. was founded to acquire the patent license for the development of North American markets. We acknowledge Andre Prevost, now retired, who recognized the need and initiated the project. EMC3 Technologies Inc. engaged with Joseph and have established the patent rights for North America. Company owners Jim MacKenzie and Greg Maloney combine experiences in snow-clearing and property-care operations with expertise in commercialization of sustainable biomaterials. Over the last three years ECOCEGRIP™ has been continually tested and improved. Field trials with environmentally minded municipalities such as the town of Rosemere Quebec have proven successful and are expanding. Individuals, like popular home improvement radio show host Jon Eakes have tried the product and love it! Our production capability has also grown from an initial pilot plant, to demonstration scale, and in Dec 2020 the first commercial scale facility was commissioned in Quebec. Aligned with the environmental promise of this clean-tech product, the wood chips are obtained either from select sawmill residuals or low value forest species harvest but unusable in sawmill operations. In both cases the wood source is FSC certified. In the Spring, any remaining chips can be gathered as mulch or to compost for soil, so it continues to provide a purpose and value. This circular aspect of the material is critically important. In summary, it is a circular product, from sustainable and renewable resources, with superior performance compared to environmentally toxic alternatives, and at lower cost.
We are very excited about our consumer product recently launched in a 20L bag format and with our new brand identity. Our penguin logo is perfect for our brand promise of being community minded and working in harmony with nature. Besides, what makes you think of snow and ice more than a penquin? We look forward to seeing our ECOICEGRIP™ penguin at homes, cities and towns across the North and hope to count you as one. (I know, the plastic bag packaging is not ideal to some. It is comprised of 10% recycled plastics and is fully recyclable. It currently serves the purpose as it needs to contain and protect a moist product and no other alternatives were readily available. We are working on some novel, reduced packaging concepts, so stay-tuned for more good news).