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Local Company Cleaning up Polluted Sites
Sentinel & Enterprise
October 9, 2006; pp 1, 6

By Aaron Wasserman
Sentinel & Enterprise Business Reporter

FITCHBURG -- The lobby of TerraTherm Inc., a six-year-old start-up company that cleans contaminated former industrial sites, features posters touting its recent projects and research. Things will be coming down soon though, as the company moves across town.

Now located on the fourth floor of a converted mill on Broad Street, the company is preparing to relocate to the Montachusett Industrial Park in West Fitchburg because it needs more space to handle its operations.

"These are mostly large, multi-million-dollar projects," Ralph S. Baker, TerraTherm's chief executive officer and technology manager, said of the company's work. "It's a growing business and a profitable one."

Founded in 2000 with the backing of two venture-capital firms, the company employs about 15 people and may hire a few new people once it relocates across the city, Baker said.

TerraTherm has been located in Fitchburg since its inception.

Baker said the company was first attracted to the city because it needed inexpensive office space in its corporate infancy.

But there are also nearby locations that could benefit from TerraTherm's technology, he explained.

"There's just a wealth of old industrial settings that are underutilized in the area and some of them, I know, could have the need to be cleaned up," Baker said.

TerraTherm takes a different approach to cleaning contaminated sites, which are also sometimes known as "brownfields" or "Superfund" sites.

Brownfields are under-used former commercial or industrial sites whose redevelopment is complicated by possible contamination. Superfund refers to the U.S. Environmental Agency's program to clean hazardous-waste sites nationwide.

A new approach

Using technology originally developed by a division of the multinational oil company Royal Dutch Shell, TerraTherm removes pollutants by heating them to temperatures as high as 630 degrees Fahrenheit so that they vaporize.

"Many approaches to treating contaminated properties have involved digging them up and taking them off to another place like a landfill, which really doesn't get rid of the problem, it just moves it to another location," said Baker, a self-described "life-long environmentalist." "In fact, many landfills have turned into Superfund sites over the years. By contrast, what we're able to do is destroy the contamination in place so it's gone."

The technology works by applying a high-temperature surface to the soil.

The heat then radiates through an entire site because materials such as clay or silt heat up uniformly, Baker explained, removing contaminates such as oils and PCBs.

Removing such contaminants cleans the surrounding water table and also makes a site much more attractive to developers for reuse projects, according to Baker.

One of TerraTherm's original financial supporters is the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp., a quasi-public agency created by the Legislature, which has invested $750,000 in TerraTherm.

The MTDC received its initial funding from the state and federal government budget in the late 1970s, but is now self-sustaining.

Not exciting, but important

Robert J. Crowley, president of the MTDC, said he is encouraged by the company's recent projects.

"TerraTherm personifies the type of company we were created to address. It's a company that a lot of the so-called traditional venture capital firms probably would pass over. It's not an exciting technology, but it's an important technology," he said. "We got interested in it because of the technology and the good it can do."

Crowley sits on TerraTherm's board of directors, along with a representative from Bison Capital LLC, the Florida venture-capital firm that was the second source of TerraTherm's start-up money.

TerraTherm's employees have significantly improved their financial savvy to complement their technological expertise, refusing to accept undervalued contracts, Crowley said.

"They've gone to 'fitness school' to develop muscles to deal with other companies," he said. "We're very pleased with the progress the company has made in the past two years."

One TerraTherm project about which Baker speaks fondly happened in Richmond, Calif., which he described as a "gritty industrial city" much like Fitchburg.

Working with Richmond's redevelopment agency, TerraTherm cleaned a former shipping and bulk-storage terminal on the San Francisco Bay.

The project lasted about nine months and cost about $2 million, but added $5 million to the 14-acre-property's value, Baker said.

It is now being redeveloped privately for high-end residential units, and will include a park, trail and fishing pier, according to Gary Hembree, chief of redevelopment projects for Richmond's Community Redevelopment Agency.

"Before, we could do nothing," he said. "But with the remediation, we're going to be able to proceed with redevelopment and waterfront revitalization."

TerraTherm's clients are located nationwide. Its four ongoing projects are in Taunton, Syracuse, N.Y., Greenville, S.C., and Huntsville, Ala., which is for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

 

About TerraTherm

TerraTherm, Inc. is a worldwide leader in the development and implementation of in situ thermal remediation of source zones and hazardous waste. We design, build and operate projects from concept to closure, using Thermal Conduction Heating (TCH), Steam Enhanced Extraction (SEE) and Electrical Resistance Heating (ERH). With offices in Fitchburg, MA, Keene, CA, and Atlanta, GA, and licensees such as Kruger A/S (Denmark and Sweden), AIG Engineering, Ltd. (UK), and SheGoTec (Japan), we offer services worldwide. For more information, visit www.terratherm.com.

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