HydroBlox, Goodwill form JV to recycle plastic, make drainage products
Warrendale, Pa.-based HydroBlox Technologies Inc. will open a third manufacturing plant for its stormwater drainage products, which are made from all-recycled material in a unique process with machines built in-house.
The new facility will be constructed in Muskegon, Mich., where HydroBlox officials are partnering with Goodwill Industries of West Michigan to divert the nonprofit group's unusable plastic donations from landfills. Goodwill's low-grade, mixed-color, commingled plastic will be turned into regrind and then resource-saving construction products for industrial, commercial and residential uses.
Founded in 2008, HydroBlox Technologies manufactures porous planks that are trenched to filter and direct the flow of stormwater for road projects, trails, retaining walls, hydroponic farms, solar fields and green roofs.
The company's main plant, a 126,000-square-foot facility, is in Meadville, Pa. The original factory in Conneaut Lake, Pa., now manufactures a product called HydroNoodles.
HydroNoodles are sold for agricultural uses, while HydroBlox planks act like underground roof gutters and divert the water back to the aquifer or a routed destination such as a gravel pit or retention box, according to HydroBlox Technologies founder Ed Grieser.
The products have solved drainage problems for California-based SolarCity, CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads, Shell, Sunoco and Spectra Energy.
Although HydroBlox Technologies takes on big projects, it hasn't had to buy material for four years thanks to relationships with companies and communities looking to avoid landfills. The company takes in about 270,000 pounds of recyclables every week.
Corporate customers send post-industrial scrap to HydroBlox Technologies' plant in Meadville. In some cases, they pay a size-reduction fee to turn the waste into regrind that is processed into the plastic planks.
The relationship helps customers meet sustainability goals with HydroBlox's "zero landfill conversion technology," as Grieser calls it.
At the Meadville plant, the regrind is manufactured into HydroBlox products in a process that doesn't use glue, heat, binders or any hazardous materials, nor does it generate exhaust fumes or waste water.
"It's not extruded or injected or blow molded. None of those processes would work because you have all these different types of plastic with all these melt ranges," Grieser said. "We use a process I developed that's pretty neat. We don't even have floor drains in our building. Unfortunately it's our IP [intellectual property] and I can't say more."
When it comes to plant visits, he jokes about first leaving a kidney at the door.
"We've been successful only because of heightened protection of our trade secrets," Grieser said. "Because of that, we don't do Brownie tours, and I've told you as much as I can about how we make it."
The processing machine he developed internally — down to the controls — is referred to as BAM, which is an acronym for "big-ass machine." With the BAMs producing the planks from the comingled waste stream, HydroBlox Technologies can offer drainage systems with a price advantage.
"We've had other companies make something that looks like our HydroBlox, but they can't compete with us," Grieser said. "If you have to buy the plastic, it would be very difficult."
HydroBlox Technologies passes along price breaks when it can.
"In direct contrast to everything else on planet Earth right now, this year we've lowered our prices twice," Grieser said. "As we do that, the value proposition of the end product goes up."