A chloride-free answer to one manufacturer's ice-melting dilemma

Nate Clemmer is the CEO of SynaTek LP, which designs, manufactures and distributes products that de-ice sidewalks and parking spaces in the winter months.

While his company habitually sells to customers who maintain the outside of a building as well as those who maintain the interiors, his latest product was inspired by one visual that he could not get out of his head.

We’ve been hearing more and more from our customers that they were looking for a non-salt, environmentally friendly alternative to chloride salt-based deicers, so I’ve been exploring various products in that category for several years. It made sense to start thinking about designing a product that would incorporate BASF’s formic acid technology.

Nate Clemmer

CEO of SynaTek LP

It's like there's one person outside the building with a bucket, throwing granular products down," Clemmer explains. "And then there's another person inside the building, literally 10 feet away — 60 degrees difference in temperature — who's got a bucket picking up the same product."

When granular products track onto the carpets inside lobbies, they often damage metal, kill plants and pose risks for pet safety. Clemmer decided it was time to come up with a better solution.

Upon researching other alternatives, he discovered a video on formic acid for deicing airport runways. Formic acid — an organic chemical compound with applications in feed preservatives, household and industrial cleaning, and pharmaceutical intermediates — was used by BASF as a more natural alternative to the more standard chloride-based salts.

Because they are less corrosive and have a lesser impact on the surrounding flora, formate salts are considered a more sustainable option. Potassium formate is also sprayed in liquid form instead of granular salt, so tracking into buildings is not a concern.

"Because potassium acetate is made with acetic acid, it has two-carbon atoms. It actually takes more oxygen to biodegrade than formic acid, which only has one carbon," says Ben Glowacki, Market Development Manager, Chemicals, BASF. "The lower the chemical oxygen demand, the better, and potassium formate has about one third the COD of potassium acetate. We can do everything that potassium acetate does and be better for the environment."

BASF is the sole manufacturer of formic acid in North America, so Clemmer got in touch with the chemical company in August of last year about utilizing its technology. By November he had started beta testing his potassium formate product, called Entry, and selling it while continuously tweaking the formulation throughout the winter.

We've been hearing more and more from our customers that they were looking for a non-salt, environmentally friendly alternative to chloride salt-based deicers," Clemmer adds, "so I've been exploring various products in that category for several years. It made sense to start thinking about designing a product that would incorporate BASF’s formic acid technology."

By end of February, Clemmer felt confident that his business had dialed in the right mix of ingredients to achieve the final formulation. SynaTek started picking up customers quickly, especially when the company could show them how the product worked.

"We needed to design a product that would work really fast, because once someone shovels snow, what’s left is more slippery than what was there before," he says. "We needed to get that surface back to safe as quickly as possible."

Using BASF's formic acid, which was transformed into a potassium formate liquid, SynaTek created a biodegradable solution for commercial and residential deicing. The result of their efforts is chloride- and urea-free, works immediately, and eliminates granular and residual tracking.

Potassium formate removes thin layers of ice, prevents new snow from sticking, and inhibits the formation of a new layer of ice. At a 50 percent concentration, the freezing point is reduced to as much as minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit.

SynaTek showcased this new way of deicing at the SIMA Snow & Ice Symposium in Montreal and at the BOMA International Conference & Expo in Nashville in late June. The company will also be marketing Entry under both its Secure Winter and Branch Creek product lines.

“Its biodegradability is the best on the market. It’s a complete disruptor, because it has the potential to change the way people maintain residential and commercial buildings in winter conditions.”

Nate Clemmer, CEO of SynaTek LP

BASF has provided formic acid to runway deicing companies for quite a while, in European markets such as Frankfurt, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland. The chemical company decided the North American market was a natural fit for its technology, especially since there is now a formic acid plant in the U.S. to support the deicing industry.

The fact that it’s sourced domestically, that’s important to us,” Clemmer says. “Its biodegradability is the best on the market. It’s a complete disruptor, because it has the potential to change the way people maintain residential and commercial buildings in winter conditions."

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