‘Wanted to set my own course’

Owner credits ‘rampant curiosity’ for his success

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Bioremediation sales reprentative Andrew Gentry (left) and EcoIslands LLC creator Colin Lenox showcase a piece of solar pump cleaning technology at a pond near Duncansville on Oct. 31.

Colin Lennox wanted to do his own thing and “didn’t want to work for anybody.”

So, in 2010, he put his Penn State degrees in environmental studies and English to use and created EcoIslands LLC, which sold floating islands, hydroponic growth mats that clean water by pulling nutrients out of ponds.

Lennox, 39, admits following the recession was not the greatest time to start a business, which is housed in his home near Penn State Altoona.

“We only sold three floating islands. I did environmental landscaping, anything to keep me outside,” Lennox said.

Lennox carried on and his bioremediation company got involved with acid mine drainage cleanup in 2012.

“We clean acid mine drainage by building wetlands in a box,” he said. “Wetlands are catalyzed by microbes and efficiently cleans mine drainage. If you build wetlands in a box, you can do any bioremediation process that natural wetlands can. The elements are directly affected by microbes.”

Lennox has done work for the Clearfield Creek Water Association.

“He installed one of the first of his metal removal systems at the Glasgow treatment system where the Clearfield Creek Watershed Association had recently overseen an upgrade of an earlier treatment system. His unique experimental system extracted mainly manganese from the partly treated water, and showed great success,” said Arthur Rose, a retired Penn State professor, geochemist and advisor to the association.

Rose said Lennox’s technology represents a new and different approach to mine drainage treatment and has been able to remove a variety of metals – iron, manganese, aluminum, and others — from some very bad water.

“His methods are being recognized as a significant new approach for treating acid mine drainage and other contaminated waters. CCWA is currently collaborating with Colin on testing removal of iron from a very high-iron acid drainage at our Klondike site near Ashville,” Rose said.

Rose also said Lennox’s technology is not a testing method, it is a treatment method.

Today, acid mine drainage work makes up 85-90 of his business, Lennox said.

“We sell wetlands bioreactors; there are different sizes. In 2017, we started going smaller in size, building 100 gallon bioreactors for home agriculture and demos, but we make them as large as 1,800 gallons,” Lennox said.

EcoIslands LLC received the Technology Award from the Blair County Chamber of Commerce in both 2012 and 2013.

The business received funding from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners in 2014 and 2016. The $50,000 in 2016 was to support its sales and marketing efforts, while also making engineering improvements to its system.

“It has been incredibly important, it got us through our mid-stage generation of bio reactors. The design was good but need improvements. We now have a production unit to produce bio reactor metal removal units, which are very advanced and capable of an enormous microbial diversity, which means a huge array of purposes and markets,” Lennox said.

EcoIslands was worthy of BFTP funding.

“Drainage from thousands of abandoned mines has contaminated more than 3,000 miles of streams and ground waters in Pennsylvania. The contaminated water can quickly find its way into other water sources: streams, lakes, reservoirs and rivers, which adversely affects aquatic life and makes the water unsuitable for many uses. Most treatments are expensive, require large capital investments, and have high annual operating costs for the needed chemicals. Ben Franklin invested in EcoIslands LLC because they designed modular, passive bioreactors that clean this contaminated water,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Wilson. “Compared to the other presently available technologies, their method typically has a smaller capital investment, is less expensive to operate, and does not require chemical inputs. Lastly, the processes and methods they have developed for removing metals can also be adapted to other types of water treatment, including waste/nutrient management, hydrocarbon contamination, and surface run-off remediation.”

Along the way, Lennox, whose customers include energy and engineering firms, water and municipal authorities, non-profit river organizations, a host of mining partners and the state Department of Environmental Protection, started to focus more on agriculture.

Legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania may help Lennox’s business.

“I built a system for a cannabis grower in Oregon, a compost tea generator in 2014 and learned a lot,” Lennox said. “We would like to sell our system and help the growers become more efficient with a better return on investment. We are now developing sales representatives and are pursuing the growers more broadly. We are trying to find the people who have the licenses.”

Lennox expects his business to continue to grow.

“I am director, ecologist and CEO. We have about eight members who are part of the membership. I am the majority owner and as I find talented people with the right skill sets that fit our needs at the time we add members. We will eventually take on employees. We’ve developed a powerful marketing department and are on-boarding a pro sales team to work in the broad fields of bioremediation,” Lennox said.

Lennox said he is always interested in adding new research or business partners to Penn State, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the Smithsonian Institution.

He said his business can save customers lots of money.

“Billions of dollars are spent annually on industrial and agricultural water remediation systems. Our cost-saving approach is simple: we leverage the biological power of nature through concentrated wetland technology. Our low maintenance, ultra efficient systems last for decades and can save our customers potentially millions of dollars over the life of a system,” Lennox said.

Lennox credits “a good local business climate and rampant curiosity,” as the keys to his success.

“Not doing what someone tells you to do. I wanted to set my own course, it takes time and money,” Lennox said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.