An interview with Dr Richard Stewart, Founder and Managing Director of RemBind Pty Ltd
1. Can you tell us about the history of the RemBind technology?
The technology was originally developed in 2010 in collaboration with the CSIRO for the immobilisation of gas works contaminants. Immobilisation involves binding up contaminants in soil using sorbents like RemBind to prevent leaching into groundwater where they can cause harm to human health and the environment.
In 2013, I remember sitting in a café in Melbourne with a consultant and they asked “can RemBind bind up PFAS?”. I had no idea what PFAS was, so I went to the restrooms and rang an academic colleague who informed me that it would theoretically bind PFAS very well. I reported back to the consultant “I have been thinking about your question, and theoretically, yes, it will bind PFAS”. The rest is history. After some independent testing with Government authorities and research institutes, we scaled up our manufacturing in Australia and now export to Europe, UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand. Through an extensive network of distributors, we have treated 100’s of thousands of tonnes of soil worldwide including at Airforce bases in USA, Sweden and here in Australia. The technology is patented in all of these regions, to protect our unique combination of clays, carbons and minerals in the product.
2. There are a number of emerging remediation technologies to tackle PFAS in soil. Where is the sweet spot for immobilisation?
Where immobilisation comes into its own is where PFAS has diffusely spread over large areas of land and the destructive technologies are not economically viable or practical. Broad acre applications include mine sites, airports, and new infrastructure and tunnelling projects that pass through old industrial areas. The cost per tonne of soil can be as little as 35 dollars per tonne of soil which is significantly cheaper than the destructive technologies which are in the 100’s of dollars per tonne of soil.
Immobilisation is basically bucket chemistry and can be done with standard portable equipment – you mix the powdered RemBind into the soil at around 1% to 3% and add a bit of water and the binding process is complete. A variety of machinery can be used ranging from an excavator to more specialised soil mixing equipment. In New Zealand a client recently used a conventional rotary hoe to great effect.
3. What are the main challenges you see as the global market opportunity for soil immobilisation continues to accelerate?
The market for immobilisation products is now growing rapidly worldwide. A single project can require 100’s or even 1,000’s of tonnes of RemBind, which has its logistical challenges. We currently manufacture in Australia and export to global markets but based on expected market growth, this won’t be sustainable or practical. So, the challenge for us now is to find suitable manufacturers in Europe and USA. In terms of pricing, performance and quality in these overseas markets we are right up there with competing products, so now we just need to get the supply chain right. We are working hard on this and have will have some exciting announcements coming up. Watch this space!
4. What will the next chapter in the RemBind story look like?
We will continue to innovate; we are currently developing some spill socks for use at construction sites or emergency spill sites to capture PFAS runoff, and we are also investing in pelletising technologies to make a product that is easier to apply in certain applications without compromising performance. We keep an eye on emerging markets include biosolids and compost where low levels of PFAS have crept into these products and therefore have the potential to spread to agricultural land and even home gardens. PFAS contaminated asphalt and concrete product are also posing some challenges and we are doing some work in that space. We are also doing some testing in the drinking water space in the USA, where the US EPA has recently announced tight new potable water regulations which is driving innovation. There is plenty more to do!
RemBind (remediation binding products) is a proudly Australian-owned company doing great things on the world stage. The tireless work of our small-dedicated team of staff in Adelaide, South Australia and our wonderful network of global distributors has allowed us to grow into one of the leading and most recognised brands worldwide for PFAS soil remediation. We manufacture in Western Australia where there is a good supply of our key product ingredients, and the Port of Fremantle is ideal for shipping our products to overseas markets. In a recent industry survey in the USA, we were consistently named in the top two brands for commercial soil immobilisation products. A continual focus on innovation has allowed us to pioneer the acceptance of immobilisation as a viable PFAS remediation tool. We were told in 2015 that “immobilisation will never be accepted because it doesn’t destroy the PFAS, you are wasting your time”. The same client is now using immobilisation as their main remediation strategy. Go figure!
About Richard Stewart
I have always had an interest in technology commercialisation. I grew up in New Zealand where my parents ran a variety of small businesses and, from a young age, I saw first-hand the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice required to build a successful business; I was equally intrigued by the level of fulfilment and economic freedom that this could bring.
During my PhD years at the University of Adelaide, I participated in the Inaugural Master’s in Science and Technology Commercialisation Course which was being offered by the University of Texas. This cemented my passion for turning good ideas into great products. I was able to combine this passion with my small business knowledge to lay the foundations for the RemBind business. I see it as a great challenge to navigate through the early-stage risks and uncertainties of a start-up technology. People often underestimate the amount of blood, sweat and tears that are required for success.
Using a conventional rotary hoe to mix RemBind at a site in New Zealand
Mixing bags of RemBind at a Swedish military site remediation project
Article Published on 21/04/2023
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