FilterBoxx Water and Environmental Corp. is a privately-owned industrial enterprise that first came into existence in 2001. With its corporate head office in Calgary, the company specializes in providing packaged potable water and wastewater treatment systems to drilling, mining and pipeline camps, small municipalities and aboriginal communities.
FilterBoxx employs about 140 dedicated professionals at its four main locations and also has a presence in Colorado for U.S. business interests. Corporate matters and Engineering Project Management are handled at Calgary headquarters. A new office in Spruce Grove is considered the focal point for the Services business, including the rental and operations group. There is a small satellite office in Grand Prairie for Energy Services and finally an Engineering and Sales office in Ontario.
Co-founder Kevin Slough is President and Chief Technology Officer at FilterBoxx Water and Environmental Corp. He and a close friend recognized a pressing need in the marketplace for such a company some 13 years ago and so they made a proactive decision to aggressively pursue the opportunity. Equipped with a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and an MBA, Slough was the ideal candidate to launch such a venture and ultimately lead in its successes to this day, along with CEO Larry Novachis, who joined the company in 2011.
“The early stage of the company was really focused on the oilsands developments, which were really beginning to take off,” Slough tells us. “The construction and operations camps that were associated with that construction started to grow significantly. The small treatment systems that had been employed for camp use up to that time just did not have the capability to function well once the cap sizes got really large.”
It was not that long ago when a majority of the focus began shifting from a municipal affairs related issue to an Alberta environment regulated issue. The failings of the early treatment units that had been deployed weren’t recognized because the sampling requirements weren’t there.
“As soon as they got to a certain size, where they elicited scrutiny, it was shown that they weren’t up to snuff and so we entered the market with a system that could be deployed to those remote areas and also met all the required regulatory criteria,” Slough continues.
FilterBoxx has built upon a sound reputation for the successful completion of multiple significant projects, including two in Afghanistan where the company was responsible for providing Canadian troops with water services.
“The first was for the Canadian-based Camp Julien just outside Kabul,” Slough recalls. “That was an interesting and challenging project in that the schedule was very tight because there was word they would have to deploy rapidly. We were able to get that water treatment plant system running in less than 30 days. It was custom-designed to fit in the back of a C-130.”
While the first project in Afghanistan was not massive in terms of FilterBoxx’s capabilities, it was nonetheless a major coup for such a young company to be entrusted with an important high-profile task of building a six-tonne water treatment plant that was flown in to that country to serve our Canadian military personnel. The filtration system was able to supply 350 cubic meters of clean water per day.
“It proved we were able to react quickly and scoop that project from other water treatment companies,” Slough proudly states. That first project was in 2003 and was followed up with a second in Kandahar in 2007.
The decade that followed has resulted in a consistent pattern of tremendous growth at FilterBoxx including the recent creation of the membrane bioreactor (MBR) water treatment plant in 2011 and a $35 million turnkey project last year. The MBR evolved after several years of operating the business and it seemed logical to Slough and his team members that this was the route wastewater was taking, which is when FilterBoxx executives made the decision to build their own membrane bioreactor.
“We deployed our first MBR type plant in 2004,” Slough reveals. “By far, the majority of our wastewater treatment systems are all membrane bioreactor based.”
The $35 million turnkey project was for a large oilsands development in Alberta. It was a project that started in mid-2010 and was completed in just over two years in the latter stages of 2013.
“Our customer was given a turnkey package to deliver the entire camp infrastructure,” Slough notes. “Very early in the development of their bid we were working with them and provided all of the site utilities; so we did the water and wastewater treatment system, the fire pump systems, the backup power generation, the gas distribution for the site and water distribution.”
Water Systems and Energy Services
As the parent company, FilterBoxx Water and Environmental Corp. oversees two main operating subsidiaries, namely the packaged water systems business and energy services. Slough says the former is the capital sale business, or systems that are sold to end clients.
“It can be something as mundane as potable water and sewage treatment to produced water treatment and processed boiler feed water and high purity systems,” he says.
“They are all on a capital sale. They go through our packaged water systems company.”
The energy services business centres on the rental and operations group at FilterBoxx.
“We have about 100 to 110 pieces of rental equipment including: wastewater treatment systems, water treatment systems, storage tanks, distribution systems and our utility combo packages which have water, wastewater, power distribution or backup power gens all on a single skid,” Slough remarks. “We also have our operations group, which runs both our own rental equipment but also does contract operations for many of the clients that we’ve sold systems to who then contracted us to run them on their behalf.”
As the designers of such technologically sound pieces of equipment for water and wastewater treatment systems that are provided to clients in either skid mounted or containerized packages, FilterBoxx manages all of the quality control and testing at their own facilities to ensure each system is functioning at 100% capacity. What makes the systems even more attractive is that they are relatively compact, with all being suitable for transport via highway.
“All of our systems are designed to be truck transportable,” Slough confirms. “Even our very large systems that we’ve done for the oilsands have been fully skid mounted so they are either winched on the back of a tractor trailer or put on a transport by crane.”
Canada and the United States remain the primary market for FilterBoxx, but the company has embarked on some exploratory opportunities coming out of Australia, where of course natural resources is a fundamental backbone industry that supports the country’s national economy. Projects in the Middle East also crop up on a case by case basis.
“Our current focus in terms of development is North America where there is still lots of work to do but certainly an international expansion is in the medium to long-term plans,” Slough says.
This particular industry has always done a great deal to improve water management and those efforts continue to this day as evidenced by all the funding that goes towards such important initiatives. Slough had previously expressed concern that many companies had not done a great job in communicating that aspect, leaving much of the public wondering how much of a priority was being levied towards improvements.
“There was an impression that there was massive amounts of water used and little concern about the environment and how companies are using the water within their process,” Slough explains. “It’s true that the oilsands are very water intensive but companies are spending immense amount of resources and money to try and improve their efficiencies. Ignoring the bad press wasn’t serving the industry well so they needed to better communicate some of the positive things that they have been doing and yes, the messaging is much better now than a decade ago.”
FilterBoxx is a major supplier to the oilsands, heavy oil and enhanced oil projects along with unconventional natural gas expansion projects, namely shale gas.
The majority of business for FilterBoxx is generated from western Canada in Alberta and northern B.C., but with the opening of the Ontario office the company has secured a number of mining and light industrial projects in Canada’s largest province as well as the Maritimes.
FilterBoxx is primarily involved with very large clients in the oil and gas industry but has also provided its products and services expertise to some smaller communities in Canada, including Aboriginal communities.
“As example, we did a water treatment system for a rural subdivision and development here in Alberta and worked with Aboriginal communities to upgrade their wastewater systems, but we are primarily industrial focused,” Slough mentions.
Asked what he believes separates FilterBoxx from the competition, Slough says it’s attributable to a combination of factors including dedicated employees, a wealth of experience and trusted reliability.
“I think we’ve got a great package,” Slough offers. “All of the systems we deploy work; some of our competitors can’t say that. We also have a very broad technology offering.
We’re not just a potable water and sewage treatment company that some of our competitors are. We have the technical bench strength to do more complicated water treatment. We really understand the problems around oil and gas. We’ve found ourselves in a position where we have a very broad technology offering and understanding of the client base and for the big-boy competition, the oil and gas sector isn’t their primary business. It is our primary business and I think we do the best job of serving that market.”
As of 2014, FilterBoxx has already accumulated an impressive resume of completed projects, but Slough makes it clear he has even more substantial goals in mind for his organization in the not-to-distant future.
“Our current five-year plans have us roughly tripling the size of the company in terms of its revenue base,” Slough states. “I hope to have a very strong, established presence in the U.S. serving that market, again primarily oil and gas and mining being our targets but also a bit of light industrial. We will have brought to market several new technologies that we’re just starting to bring to market now, so we expect to see those rolled out successfully during that time frame.”