By Edward C. Gregor, Editorial Advisory Board Chairman, International Filtration News
In the filtration and separations industry, there are not enough new differentiated technologies that stand out and capture world-dominating companies’ attention. As a start-up with its first sales success in 2004, MYCELX Technologies appears to be one of those companies with emerging and differentiated technology in our industry.
In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989, MYCELX co-founder and current President and Chief Science Officer, Haluk (Hal) Alper, conducted research leading to the invention of the first-generation version of the MYCELX polymer, now central to most MYCELX products, that would remove oil during open water spills.
In 1994 Alper joined with John Mansfield Sr., an experienced oil executive with a multimillion U.S. oil distribution business, headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia (USA). Together they founded MYCELX to continue research and development, establish global patents and test the technology in new markets. The unique polymer attributes and Mansfield’s financial muscle helped the company blossom to where it is today, an excellent lesson for other startups navigating the high-risk of under-funding in their embryonic years.
Early composition of matter patents were issued between 1995 and 1998. In 2001 the company obtained a patent for the use of MYCELX cohesive polymer into base filtration media, which remains the core of the business specifically targeting produced and process water treatment in the oil and gas industry. Produced water is a term used in the oil industry to describe water that is “produced” as a by-product in the traditional production of oil and gas. Oil wells produce three to ten times more water than oil during operations and all the water must be treated for discharge or reuse. The new technology MYCELX created has the ability to irreversibly separate water from oil with high efficiency and less expensively than conventional methods.
For this issue, we interviewed CEO Connie Mixon of MYCELX Technologies:
Ed Gregor: MYCELX is still a young company, yet it seems to have made enormous progress with both technology and its entryway into a long established, highly conservative industry. Please share what’s behind it.
Connie Mixon: The Oil & Gas (O&G) industry is slow to adopt new technology because it can require complex changes to very large operations, which is costly. The benefits of a change must be proven with performance and cost savings. MYCELX has completed over one hundred small and large-scale trials demonstrating the efficacy of the technology. While the lead time is very long in O&G, the need for water treatment is one of the largest in the world. While it has taken time to prove our technology, it is worth the extensive work required to achieve long term use of the technology. We believe it portends success for the company in a very large global market.
Ed Gregor: How does a relatively small, yet emerging company, like MYCELX get the attention of elite players like Chevron, Schlumberger and SABIC in a well-established market, especially during a downturn while their focus is reducing costs?
Connie Mixon: Companies such as MYCELX with superior technology that demonstrate improved operational performance and cost savings have an advantage. During the downturn we cut back on all expenses, had to let half our personnel go, but we continued to run pilot trials with existing and new customers in preparation of a turnaround, which seems to be occurring now. Nothing travels faster throughout the industry than successful trials with good data collected onsite. These trials were an investment, but also critical in convincing the operators of the technology’s differentiation and the necessity of deploying the next generation technology to accommodate their advancements in production.
Ed Gregor: As a global company what are the two or three leading thoughts you find important to establishing and continuing growth internationally?
Connie Mixon: We must nurture relationships in the region of operation such as the Middle East and other regions where we operate globally. While we can’t be everywhere, it’s critical we have good leadership, strong relationships and adopters of the technology locally as well. Fortunately, we do.
Ed Gregor: Tell our readers why Mycelx went public early in the company history. What have been the benefits?
Connie Mixon: For us it was to access funds for growth. We listed on the AIM (Alternative Investment Market) Exchange in London in 2011 under the symbol MYX. At first, friends and family invested in our company, but we needed more funds and didn’t want to go the Venture Capital route. We discovered the AIM Exchange, which caters to companies like ours where large investors buy into small technology companies. There is no equivalent for capital formation like AIM in the United States. The costs are relatively favorable and financial reporting is reduced. We would not have been able to launch our Middle East operation without the AIM IPO.
Ed Gregor: Now that Mycelx has well established itself as a leading provider in the produced water industry, are there other markets segments in your sights as possible opportunities based on existing or newer offerings?
Connie Mixon: Yes, but we shelved all that during the downturn. We are re-engaging in markets such as mercury removal from gas, oil-mist removal from air and bilge water cleanup. The biggest opportunity in the O&G industry is our new regenerable bed media REGEN, where we feel we have a win/win by managing the increasing use of polymer in water deployed during enhanced oil recovery operations. Especially in older fields where as a much a 50 percent of oil remains underground, offering a robust technology to recover more oil is very attractive to the operators.
Ed Gregor: Now for the big question, where would you like to see Mycelx in 20 years as a company and would it be homegrown technology or acquisitions to achieve that goal.
Connie Mixon: Ideally, I’d like to see MYCELX as a $1 billion company. Why, because the O&G industry is so large and important globally. We own IP that has not yet been commercialized, and applications of our technology that are not fully implemented. The future is to leverage MYCELX technology to its full potential in all applications; some we don’t know yet! Acquisitions could be a potential component in our future if there is synergy or enhancement of an application or treatment system.
Ed Gregor: Thank you for your time and insightful comments.
Connie Mixon: You’re welcome.