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Hlengiwe Cele  

The human effect of high-tech operations

As a result of increasingly stringent legislation locally, and a growing commitment to environmental responsibility from companies around the globe, Procon Environmental Technologies is able to make a measurable difference to the planet at a level that is felt by human beings.

Specialising in systems that mitigate the impact of contamination on the environment, Procon Managing Director Andy Miller founded the company in 1993 based on the premise that "prevention is better than cure", but where cure is necessary, holistic solutions are key.

"In 1996 I came across Oppenheimer Biotechnology Inc (OBI) and went to the USA for training in bioremediation," says Miller. "OBI produces naturally occurring microbes that adapt themselves to degrade oil pollution. The pollutants are recycled into natural compounds which aid in soil reclamation and fertilisation."

Procon imports the product, which is effective in fuel spills as well as sewage, waste-water and industrial waste treatment. "Under carefully controlled conditions, bioremediation is a practical and cost-effective method to remove hydrocarbons from contaminated surfaces and sub-surfaces. It is a natural and safe process for marine and plant life, non-disruptive and non-invasive to the environment and is cost effective."

Procon Environmental Engineer Jacques Steyn explains that in 1996, OBI bioremediation was a hard sell. "Then a coal mining concern saw its value, along with a power supply company and a steel company. Once people could see how effective the process is, it made sense to them."

The company quickly saw other opportunities in the environmental solutions field and was awarded with the South Africa's agency for Ultraspin – high quality oily water separating and recycling systems.

Miller says: "We now have a dedicated team of professionals to provide clients with turnkey solutions. Ongoing research and development programmes ensure that our offerings incorporate innovative process developments and state-of-the-art equipment to separate oils, fats and solids from process and effluent streams."

Oil is recovered at a rate of around 95%, which is then recycled for industry use. "Where the alternative was to discharge it into the environment or send it for disposal, it now becomes a valuable product again," adds Steyn.

Procon saw another need in the market, where discharges into storm water systems were required to reduce their grease-to-water ratio to 2, 5 parts per million. "We joined forces with US-based MyCelx, which provides a specialised filter that can treat the water to undetectable levels. As the local distributor for MyCelx, we are able to take care of clients with small contaminations of oil in water that must be removed - for example, where underground aquifers are contaminated with diesel or petrol," says Miller.

Developed in response to the Exxon Valdez disaster, MyCelx coated materials instantly bond with organic compounds - including the full range of aromatic hydrocarbons - and prevent them from separating and emulsifying.

Also in the oily water separation arena, Procon's Ultraspin equipment is the company's biggest selling product, offering clients exceptional return on investment (ROI). Based on innovative hydrocyclone designs, research shows that oil is recovered at a rate of 310 000 litres a day. "Multiply that by the cost of oil per litre and subtract the cost of equipment and you have your ROI. In the case of one large refinery that tested our systems, that figure was 554%," says Steyn.

Using the Ultraspin system, once water contaminated by oil is remediated some 75% is guaranteed reusable, rising to 87% depending on site characteristics. "Again, cost and resources savings are enormous."

With the world's eyes on global warming and environmental accountability, Procon has seen its business grow at least 30% year-on-year. "We have also earned a reputation in the market and referrals form a large part of our new business," Miller notes. Procon currently employs 18 full time staff members between its Pretoria and Witbank offices, and has strategic alliances in place for large or cross-border projects. "We also hold BEE Level four status, and are aggressive in our community service programmes. We purchase from BEE companies and actively work towards the development of local black owned companies."

Procon's client base has grown to include a variety of industries. "One large oil company uses our systems in every one of its depots in southern Africa, and is subsequently meeting legislation on its discharge levels to sewer and/or storm water."

What’s more, Procon has replaced outdated systems in the rail and the platinum industries, and has provided turnkey solutions for a large coal mining concern. "We took the coal project from site survey through design, civil construction, project management and right up to installation. It's vital that we are able to provide bigger-picture solutions," says Steyn.

‘The bigger picture’ includes the provision of a 50 000 litre an hour system, complete with MyCelx for an Angolan concern, as well as work in the rail and mining sectors in Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana, where Procon has engaged Encyclo in a strategic alliance. The company is also negotiating projects in Burundi and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and has conducted extensive testing for a local refinery, which looks likely to result in the installation of Procon two systems.

In managing its growth, Procon is committed to maintaining quality outputs and meeting client targets. It is also extremely enthusiastic about the work it undertakes and the solutions it delivers: "In one instance, 30 000 litres of diesel was spilled into a large vlei, which fed into a stream from which a local township drew water," explains Miller. "We immobilised the spill to prevent spreading, removed dead vegetation and free-floating diesel. We used the Augmented by Remediation process to introduce naturally occurring oil degrading microbes and monitored the site over two months until remediation targets were met. We took great pleasure in that job, especially in the speed with which we achieved results."

For Procon, it's about a complete solution rather than mere product or service sales. Installing 99% of equipment, the company also has a service division to reduce clients' downtime. It's a dynamic company in a vital, growing arena and Procon knows that its solutions are ultimately about quality of life.

Contact: Hlengiwe Cele

Knowledge Dissemination Officer

Tel: +27 12  330 9006



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