Ozone is known as the layer of air floating above the Earth, but more recently it has become equally known as one of the greenest technologies to hit the sanitation scene.
One Bainbridge Island company can claim partial responsibility for spreading the word.
Bainbridge Island-based Ozone International has won the 2013 Manufacturer of the Year award from Seattle Business Magazine.
The island company stood out from the crowd of other small firms in the region, not only for its success as a company, but also for its innovative approach to sanitation.
“(The award) is typically given to up-and-coming companies that are having a positive impact in the Seattle business scene,” said Mark Denis, vice president of sales at Ozone. “It wasn’t something that we expected, and it was a great honor.”
“The award is specific to manufacturing, especially new technologies in Washington,” he added. “We are a green technology. We manufacture environmentally-friendly products for food processing and we are creating jobs on Bainbridge Island.”
The company’s systems use ozone to sanitize food processing equipment, with the added benefit of lengthening shelf life. It’s an alternative to other methods that use chemicals such as chlorine or bleach.
“Ozone is basically oxygen in a highly excited state,” Denis said. “When it’s in that excited state, it’s actively seeking something to merge with and be stable. It will try and merge with bacteria cells, but it can’t do that so it destroys the cells. The only residual you have left is oxygen.”
Perhaps just as impressive as Ozone earning the honor is the company’s story.
It’s been an uphill battle starting with a Bainbridge Island water well, but grew into to a large manufacturing facility on Miller Road employing 56 people and serving 350 customers.
Islander Jim Brandt discovered the benefit of ozone while exploring well treatment options.
“We live out on Sunrise, and at the time the house was on our well,” Brandt said.
He noticed an “egg smell” in his water, a sign of sulfur contaminants. He also found traces of iron and manganese.
“When I was looking into what we could do to get all that out of there, I came across ozone,” he said.
“Ozone is an oxidizing agent,” Brandt added. “When you put it on your well water it oxidizes minerals and makes them less soluble.”
Once that is done, it’s a simple matter of filtering out the minerals.
But making the jump from water treatment to sanitation was a little more complicated.
“As I got involved with it more I recognized that it had these powerful antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral properties as well,” Brandt said.
And so Brandt, a retired surgeon of 30 years from the San Francisco Bay area, began exploring ozone as a green technology.
Ozone International was born.
“It was started in the basement of my son’s house next door,” he said.
Enter his son, Jon, a professional baseball player looking for the next step in his life.
Jon Brandt was drafted into the Seattle Mariners out of high school, but he elected to go to the University of California Los Angeles instead, where he pitched for his college team.
In 2001 he was drafted by the San Diego Padres. When he eventually faced issues with his shoulder, he began looking at other options. His father’s ventures into ozone sanitation seemed promising.
The company started in 2003 on Jon’s birthday, two years after the Food and Drug Administration gave the technology a green light for use in food processing.
But it wasn’t easy to get the company to where it is today.
“When we started out, the ozone industry had a number of setbacks,” Jim Brandt said. “Everybody knew what ozone could do but it was hard to get a good system that worked well.”
Aside from the setbacks associated with a new technology, the perception of ozone was also an issue.
“There was a lot of resistance from the food industry because a lot of what we’d done, hadn’t been done before,” Denis said. “We had to prove it.”
Ozone answered skepticism by thinking beyond the product.
“We call it equipment, but it’s not really just equipment, we provide a complete solution of green ozone technology,” Denis said.
Ozone sends crews to facilities to find solutions to their sanitization challenges, fitting their products on-scene.
The company also monitors their equipment from the island: miles, states and even countries away from their customers.
“If we see something going on, we can make modest adjustments from the island,” Brandt said. “But if we see that it is more involved, we can send someone out to the site.”
The list of innovations within its business model is quite lengthy and includes leasing equipment instead of selling it.
The company looks ahead now with a sense that things are about to get even busier. Ozone and its green technology has a track record now.
“We are at the crest of the hill and about to start trolling down the other side,” Denis said. “The acceptance rate is good and we’ve been able to prove that it works.”