Marko Furmanek was tired of getting soaked from the backwash of high pressure water-based steam cleaners and from being exposed to chemicals while cleaning engines and other industrial equipment of grime, grease and grit.
“No matter what you did and how you dressed, you’d just get wet and dirty,” he said.
Fellow mechanic and long time friend Gary Louie felt the same.
“I got double pneumonia from inhaling the steam,” he said of inhaling chemical-laden steam during a stint at a now-closed gold mine up north.
“I know all those chemicals that are used,” added Furmanek. “And it’s not healthy.” The two, along with another old friend and welder, Dean Morris, began looking for a better way. The search took them to dry ice, compressed C02 (carbon dioxide), the stuff used in those billowing clouds which add atmosphere to spooky graveyard scenes in movies.
Dry ice is made by pressuring and refrigerating C02 until it liquefies. When the pressure is reduced, some liquid carbon dioxide vaporizes, causing a rapid lowering of temperature of the remaining liquid.
As a result, the extreme cold causes the liquid to solidify into a snow-like consistency which can be compressed into small pellets or, depending upon the need, into spaghetti-like strands or into larger blocks.
When shot out under pressure through the kind of wand you might use at a car wash, the dry ice quickly and efficiently rids surfaces of accumulated grime, grease and grit.
After researching the potential uses for dry ice and the business case for starting a commercial cleaning operation, the three founded Northwest Blizzard Blasting nearly a year ago and have been actively promoting the service for the past four months.
The only other similar cleaning business within the interior is in Williams Lake, convincing them there was an untapped market from Prince George west to the coast.
Early on they realized that while they could bring in dry ice from an Edmonton manufacturer, they’d lose 20 per cent of the shipment each day it was on the road.
That brought on the decision to make their own, leading to installing a tall cylinder holding 50 tons of liquid C02 next to their building on Hwy16 just west of Terrace. It meant an increase in costs, said Furmanek, but is overall more efficient.
The trio has discovered that because the concept is new to the region, they’ve spent large amounts of time explaining what they can do.
“There’s no water. That’s the key,” said Furmanek of dry ice which quickly evaporates in the atmosphere.
Material that’s cleaned off is frozen, dried to a powder and drops to the ground, making for an easier clean up.
“A job might take four hours and then there’s clean up,” said Louie. “With us there’s that four hours and you’re done.” Morris added that the process even makes for an efficient way of cleaning barnacles and other objects from the hulls of boats.
The lists of uses includes removing mould found during building renovations and, after a fire in a Terrace townhouse complex, the trio was called in to clean off soot and other material before repairs started.
The company is also completely mobile thanks to a large trailer which can hold the heavily-insulated chests containing dry ice and the cleaning equipment. A generator in the trailer also makes them self-sufficient.
Aside from industrial cleaning, dry ice can be used to clean large kitchens in work camps. Packaged in blocks – which Northwest Blizzard Blasting sells – and placed in insulated containers, dry ice keeps food either frozen or refrigerated and liquids cool.
The company’s customer list includes Golder and Associates, the environmental services company which has used dry ice to keep samples frozen for the trip south for assessment.
Furmanek, Louie and Morris have had the assistance of financier 16/37 Community Futures in setting up the company. They’ve also had the benefit of an understanding landlord and companies which have provided services at no charge. “They know what we’re trying to do, establish a business,” said Furmanek.