Production of a material that will shape the future of clean water and reduce carbon emissions is happening in a 60,000-square-foot building in an industrial park in Olive Branch. At least that’s what local startup Glanris is hoping.
President and CEO Bryan Eagle knows it’s a big goal. But everyone needs to do something to try to change the world, he said.
“We’re running out of water… we’re past the tipping point where there are too many people and not enough fresh water,” Eagle said.
Water is a renewable resource. But global demand is quickly outpacing the rate at which aquifers and other fresh water sources renew. That’s why they’re doing this, to mitigate that problem. Glanris buys rice hulls — 20% of the weight of a rice harvest which has to be removed before the rice is eaten — and turns it into a water-filtrating activated carbon.
Their patented process is relatively simple, Eagle said, and not dissimilar from how charcoal is made. The rice hulls are put into a rotary kiln and roasted at 400 degrees Celsius for about 8 minutes. Coconut shells, which have been previously used for water purification, need to be roasted at 1,000 degrees Celsius for about 12 to 18 hours.
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After roasting, the rice hulls are cooled and re-bagged into the same containers they were delivered in. In most other cases, in the U.S. and around the world, rice hulls are burned, which releases greenhouse gasses into the environment.
“We’re stopping that burning and creating a stable carbon,” Eagle said. “What we’re really addressing is climate change.”
Industrial, residential uses
Founded in 2018, Glanris originally occupied a small lab space in Memphis. That’s where they made all the mistakes, Eagle said. Once the process was refined, the company moved south of the state line and started production in March, entering the $16 billion water filtration industry.
Currently, the company has 10 employees and is producing 2 tons of activated carbon a day with one machine. With the open space in the Olive Branch facility, they could build enough machines to produce up to 30 tons a day.
That activated carbon product, similar to material found inside other water filters, pulls dangerous contaminants from water. Unlike other materials, rice hulls have the added bonus of being high in silica, which not only pulls organic contaminants from the water but pulls metals too.
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“That dual functionality is what’s unique to our product,” Eagle said.
Glanris has inventory ready to go and is lining up clients. One of those is Modine Manufacturing Company, which manufactures HVAC compressors in Mississippi. Modine tests its products for lead by sealing one end of the compressor, pressurizing the other and lowering it into a pool. Bubbles mean there’s a leak.
However, the water eventually gets dirty with oil settling on top — hampering the ability to see bubbles — and production has to be paused to drain and refill the pool, not only slowing work but wasting water. Modine facility manager Michael Franklin said in a statement the Glanris technology “provided clear water, facilitated a more efficient (quality assurance) process, minimized maintenance costs and allows us to reuse, instead of dumping wastewater.”
Other interested parties include car parts manufacturers and entities doing environmental cleanup.
“The beauty of water is you can clean it back to whatever state you need it to be and reuse it,” Eagle said.
Glanris is focused now on industrial uses, but the company plans to venture into municipal and residential uses, having recently received the necessary certification. Eagle hopes Glanris can help communities like Flint, Michigan, which have had drinking water contaminated by lead.
‘That’s how you really make change’
But Glanris doesn’t just want to expand into new uses, the company wants to expand across the world. Eagle said they have already had discussions with people in Kenya.
At the heart of their mission, Eagle says, is converting agricultural waste into water-filtration technology at a low cost. It’s a mission that can be replicated in countries around the world, including those that are water-poor or economically poor.
While Glanris is sourcing rice hulls from a large company domestically, Riceland Foods, overseas, they hope to partner directly with local farmers. The process of roasting the hulls also produces steam and heat, which can be used for energy if desired.
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“It’s really important to us that they participate in what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re taking an agricultural waste product… and we’re paying them for that waste product and turning it into something you can use again and again.”
Not only can a partnership lead to reduced waste and contribute to cleaning water sources, but it can also provide an extra source of income to rice farmers, incentivizing them to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
“To me, that’s how you can really make change,” Eagle said.
Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, soccer and COVID-19’s impact on hospitals for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at [email protected]