Harold Kinasewich’s business life has been all about water. Kinasewich, now the President and CEO of Edmonton based Seair, founded O’Canada Spring Water and 02 Canada Beverages, companies that made oxygenated spring water. Understanding that technology led him to Seair, which develops technologies that diffuse gases into liquids. Seair’s diffusion system creates bubbles of ozone, oxygen or carbon dioxide. Seair now has more than a dozen systems in place at Syncrude’s Aurora mine near Fort McMurray.
Harold, for readers who have not heard of Seair before can you break down a bit of your history for us, and fill us in on the company’s technology?
Seair develops technologies to diffuse gases into liquids. Our technology has been proven in wastewater treatment, pulp and paper, food processing, golf course and agricultural irrigation and numerous oil and gas applications. Seair’s business is developing and selling equipment that diffuses gases like oxygen, ozone and carbon dioxide to create a supersaturated solution. Our current focus is treating water for oilsands operators, design and sales of wastewater solutions for communities not connected to a municipal collection systems and employing our 100 portable wastewater treatment plants for remote camps. What differentiates Seair from other gas diffusion treatments is our ability to produce an extremely small bubble size, which allows for a mass transfer of gas to fluid. The micro bubble results in a stable condition; gas remains in solution for extended periods of time resulting in increased productivity and lower costs. Seair Inc. is proud to have been selected as one of the “2008 TSX Venture 50”, a ranking of the top 10 public venture capital companies in 5 industry sectors listed on the TSX Venture Exchange.
In August you announced that you completed a trial with a major oil sands producer for your groundwater treatment system. How did that come about?
In August Seair announced the sale of additional groundwater treatment systems to one of Canada’s most experienced oil sands producers. Seair has been working with this company for the last four or five years through various stages including research and development, field testing to the commercial scale. The Seair technology was field tested through the winter months to demonstrate the potential to operate without failure during the extreme cold weather in Fort McMurray. After proving that the Seair equipment could achieve the desired results to reach discharge standards and operate in harsh environments the customer elected to purchase the equipment.
What do you think is the major driver behind oil sands producers adopting new technologies? Is it stricter environmental regulations or cost savings?
I’d say the main driving force is cost savings. Stricter environmental regulations are important and should be taken into consideration, but solutions that address those regulatory needs while also providing cost savings are the ones that move to the top of the priority list. The advantages of Seair’s dewatering solution is that it is extremely easy to install and represents a small foot print that promises to free up acreage that would otherwise be required to hold/store water. This is not only a cost saving for the operator but also means they might be able to mine in areas that weren’t otherwise accessible. That’s a potential additional revenue source.
How big of an issue do you believe the tailings ponds in the oil sands is? A decade from now, do you think tailings ponds will be a thing of the past?
Tailing ponds are a big issue if for no other reason than water management is a huge cost for oil sands companies. There is a strong economic incentive to shrink the ponds, but they know that any steps to do so must be environmentally sound. Many technologies are being tried that can reduce the amount of process water that goes into the ponds, remove solids etc., but in the end it will be necessary to address the residual toxicity of water. This is where Seair has something very unique to offer the industry. Our low pressure ozone-based advanced oxidation diffusion treatment processes can eliminate toxins on a commercial scale flow-through basis, eliminating the requirement for large treatment tanks. Water treated by Seair can then be safely reintroduced to the processing plant, effectively creating a closed-loop water ecosystem. Some ponds will always likely be a part of the process, but on a far smaller scale and a much quicker turnaround than the tailing ponds as we think of them today. There are all sorts of new technologies being developed for use in the oil sands, Suncor has developed polymers that separate water from clay, nitrate reducing bacteria’s that have been developed at The University of Calgary…Do you think that Canadian companies can build a legacy around becoming world leaders in dealing with the problems that the oil sands presents?
Do you think that Seair can commercialize technologies you perfect in the oil sands an apply them in other places around the world?
The water solutions being developed by Seair have applicability at all mining operations, not just the oil sands. The processes may have to be customized depending upon the contaminants including toxins present at a particular operation, but the core approach will be the same. Ten years from now we may just look at the oil sands as a small segment of the global mining water treatment business that Seair’s diffusion technology is in position to supply solutions for.