Roxul Inc.: RTO will break down odorous and visible gases in Grand Forks

Roxul Inc. in Grand Forks projects that smoke and blue haze will be gone within a few months, thanks to new pollution control technology.

Roxul Inc. Grand Forks factory manager Elmar Herrmann (left) and process and quality control manager Andy Black

Roxul Inc. Grand Forks factory manager Elmar Herrmann (left) and process and quality control manager Andy Black

Editor’s note: Quotes from former councillor Chris Moslin and Coun. Cher Wyers added.

Roxul Inc. projects that smoke and blue haze lingering over the city will be gone within a few months, thanks to new air pollution control technology being installed at its Grand Forks factory.

The tall smoke stack that currently towers over the insulation manufacturer at the corner of Industrial Park Way and 65th Avenue does meet the environmental permit requirements, said factory manager Elmar Herrmann, but it still pumps out exhaust that doesn’t have a pleasant odour and is visually unattractive.

“We have had a smoke problem for a long time,” said Roxul’s process and quality control manager, Andy Black.

The new emission abatement system is a Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer (RTO), which basically acts like a high efficient furnace to break down the odorous and visible gases.

After the gases go through the combustion chamber and specialized filters, the gas that does come out of the small stack will contain water vapour and a small amount of particulate, said Black.

The company, which produces insulation through the process of melting rocks and injecting the molten material with air, is expecting the project to cost $6 million.

“I live here as well and I don’t like seeing that smoke in the air,” said Black.

Two of the emissions that can’t be seen coming from the factory include phenol and formaldehyde.

Those emissions are very low and they will be virtually eliminated by the RTO, said Black.

“The RTO will have a separate stack, which will stand approximately 15 metres tall,” said the process and quality control manager. “The tall stack will remain, but only one emission source will flow through it and all the rest of them will be treated by the RTO.”

“The emissions are never going to be zero,” said Herrmann, “but it will be much better than what they are now with this new technology.”

Black said because Grand Forks sits in a valley, the emissions get trapped here.

“Sometimes the air just sits here. We can have almost perfect conditions in the factory with barely anything going out the stack, but if the air doesn’t move, the smoke just sits in the valley,” he said.

Roxul has been trying to lower its emissions for a number of years and it has tried other alternatives in the past, which did not have satisfactory results.

“We have had a project ongoing for the past couple of years to have a look at what the problem is and to see what technology would work best,” said Black. “We determined the RTO solution would be the best technology to control Roxul’s emissions.”

Chris Moslin, a former councillor and chair of the defunct air quality committee, lauded Roxul’s effort.

“With the construction of the existing facility and the tall stack, which has an after burner, they were well within their permit. There was no legal necessity for Roxul to make these further improvements; they took it upon themselves to create this cutting edge technology to further reduce their emissions – the blue haze and the smell,” said Moslin. “If the new technology would enable Roxul to ramp up their production that would be an immediate economic benefit to the community, not just a health benefit.”

Moslin went on to say that there is an anti-industry sentiment in Grand Forks and Roxul often bears that brunt of it. “They have done a lot for this town,” he said.

Coun. Cher Wyers, who co-chairs the city’s environment committee, said that she found out about the announcement at a meeting last week.

“It’s a commitment that they have had and recognized for some time since their last upgrade and they weren’t happy with the emission results from their previous upgrade so they were working forward to address the additions that were out there,” Wyers said. “It’s a very positive step, they are a good corporate citizen in our community and we welcome the upgrades that are coming and look forward to seeing the results.”

The RTO is expected to be running by the end of July.