Minnesota businesses want to compress, burn and process trash in India

Shop floor
Harmony Enterprises has 60 employees who build balers, trash bins and recycling machines for international companies. About 35 percent of their business comes from countries like Saudi Arabia, Germany and China. But they are along on the governor's trade mission to India hoping for additional overseas customers.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

In the tiny town of Harmony, Minnesota, workers at Harmony Enterprises cut and weld balers and compactors for companies such as Safeway, Walgreens and Gander Mountain. Vice President of Marketing Chris Cremer walks through the plant and points out one product line.

"The machine he's building right here we call an extract pack," Cremer says, as he points to a man welding a piece of steel. "It's a vertical baler that will take soda cans or soda bottles. The machine will crush it, drain the liquid, run the liquids into a drain and bale the aluminum or plastic, all in the same process."

Chris Cremer
Vice President of Marketing for Harmony Enterprises, Chris Cremer, says 30 percent of their balers are sent overseas.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

Cremer says about 35 percent of his company's business comes from countries like Saudi Arabia, Germany and China. Harmony Enterprises President Steve Cremer says India has a big demand for scrap metal and plastics.

"To recycle it, if they can make it economical to transport recyclables from a city in parts of India to a mill where they can make new steel out of it, those are the type of people we're looking at," Cremer says.

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Recycling is one of the more established types of waste management technologies developing in India. A far less tested technology is plasma gasification. Coronal is a local startup company in that field, and it wants to make headway in India.

Plasma gasification converts all types of trash -- from cell phones to banana peels -- into gas and slag that's used for electricity and steam energy. So far, the technology doesn't have a track record in the United States, but it is used successfully in Japan.

Steve Cremer
Steven Cremer, president of Harmony Enterprises, hopes to grow the business by $5 million with business in India.
MPR Photo/Sea Stachura

India's large cities and towns produce 18 million tons of trash a year. The densely populated country can't afford to give up space for landfills. Coronal founder John Howard says plasma gasification would solve both India's trash and electricity needs.

"So here we can use that resource, clean up their environment, provide jobs and provide them with what all growing societies need, which is energy," Howard explains. "What's nice about that equation is that we do it in an environmentally sound way."

Howard says he hopes to market both the intellectual property licensing and the equipment to cities in India.

Don't think plastic bottles and banana peels are the only bits of waste that Minnesota companies are after. Alloy Hardfacing and Engineering processes livestock remains, and its representatives are also on the governor's trade mission. The company turns the animal byproducts into fertilizer, and tallow for soap and makeup.

Marketing manager Paul Rothenberger says India has a lot of small butcher shops that don't render their animal byproducts.

"We can use that resource, clean up their environment, provide jobs and provide them with what all growing societies need, which is energy."

"Currently a lot of those byproducts are being buried into the ground. So it can really negatively impact the groundwater," he says.

Rothenberger says the company has been working in India for five years. He says many businesses have made purchase orders on his equipment, but getting paid can take years. Despite the challenges, he believes the market opportunity is huge.

"As to how much of that comes to fruition, we'll just have to kind of wait and see. Certainly five years into this, we're well into the red," he says.

Each of these companies hopes to gain at least $5 million to $10 million in business from India.

University of Minnesota economics professor V.V. Chari says that's a real possibility in the areas of waste management and energy production.

For example, he says, Bombay regularly floods because the storm sewers are frequently clogged with garbage. The question, he says, is whether the local political system has the will and the money to do something about both problems.

"There are pressing needs for all kinds of expenditures, so the political system has got to balance this stuff," Chari explains. "By and large, the finances of municipal governments in India are in pretty sorry shape. But that doesn't mean they won't find innovative ways of raising the revenues needed."

Chari says as the country gets wealthier, the demand for sanitary living will grow. He says the established relationships between India and companies like Best Buy and Target may give Minnesota businesses a strong chance to gain from those new demands.