A Scottsdale entrepreneur is using a sponge to clean up the environment.
He is also making his mark on another green level - financial profits.
Glenn Rink, founder of AbTech Industries, has invested more than $20 million to develop a unique method of cleaning rain water with sponge filters inserted in storm drains.
His company at 4110 N. Scotts-dale Road since its founding in 1996 has installed more than 13,000 "Ultra Urban" filters throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, Italy and Russia.
The firm has a manufacturing plant at 3610 E. Southern Ave., Phoenix where it stores tons of polymer and assembles its filters.
Rink, of Paradise Valley, has increased his privately-owned firm's income by multimillions during the past two years and he expects to increase revenue even more in the near future.
His patented filter, called the Smart Sponge, provides a relatively inexpensive way to absorb oil and deactivate bacteria from rain water, thus allowing the cleansed water to flow down into the underground watershed which eventually fills lakes, rivers, dry wells and oceans.
"I feel that I'm making a difference in the world," said Rink, who graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Arizona.
"Our sponge makes cleaning storm water affordable, especially in Third World nations...our next market."
Another method of cleaning storm water would be to insert filters inside the underground pipelines before it reached soil or nearby watersheds, but these would cost many times more than the relatively simple and less expensive Smart Sponge.
Rink started his company after meeting with John Robinson, the chief scientist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Robinson was in charge of directing the cleanup of the massive oil spill March 24, 1989, of the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker that lost more than ten million gallons of crude oil on its way from Valdez, Alaska to Long Beach, Calif.
"John shared his ideas about using polymer to absorb the oil from storm drainage water and it opened a new whole new market," Rink said. "I saw it as an opportunity to not only help improve the environment but to start a new business."
AbTech Industries sponges are incased in a container made from recycled plastic. The container is inserted by hand into the storm drainage sewer catch basin at street level. Each container weighs between 16 and 20 pounds and holds several inches of sponge made of polymer.
During a rainstorm, as much as 400 gallons of rain water flows into the catch basin and through the filter, Rink explained.
The polymer sponge collects and holds the pollutants and the cleansed rain water flows through the sponge and into the underground sewer line. The oil remains in the sponge, which is changed every three years or sooner if necessary.
The sponges can be recycled or used as heating fuel in cement kilns.
Besides retaining oil, the filter also deactivates bacteria, an action that, for example, prevents the closure of beaches and other water sites used by humans.
"Water quality standards for bacteria counts are very strictly monitored in most coastal areas," said Ray Reed, vice president of sales and marketing. He said nearly 20,000 beaches were closed in 2007 because of high bacteria counts following storms on both the West and East coasts.
He said AbTech, which stands for "Absorption Technology," counts Scottsdale among only a handful of customers in the relatively dry Arizona and the Valley, but the number is gradually growing.
"Most people are under the false assumption that any water or fluid that goes into a storm sewer eventually gets purified at a nearby water treatment plant," said Reed. "It doesn'tget cleaned. It stays underground."
AbTech Industries was selected as the top water technology and water management company in the 2008 GoingGreen list, which honors 100 firms that deal with green and environmental products and programs.