Nate Clemmer’s SynaTek Solutions was busy Tuesday in advance of another Nor’Easter storm threatening to drop piles of snow and freezing rain around Philly: He’s shipping his company’s new, high-end Entry liquid ice melt to clients including Amtrak’s 30th Street station and some of Brandywine Realty Trust’s Philadelphia-area offices. The Denver Broncos NFL team is also a client, though Colorado is on a different storm cycle.
Entry, marketed through SynaTek’s Branch Creek organics division, is “non-salt, residue-free,” Clemmer says. It’s not sodium chloride or any other chloride, which tend to eat into pavement and can be tough on fresh-water creatures. Entry uses potassium formate, derived from formic acid, a common and easily-synthesized compound. Its name derives from the Latin word for ants, who use it in self-defense.
Potassium bioformate is “biodegradable” and is “not toxic, not persistent (or) bioaccumulative,” though it will irritate your eyes and other sensitive membranes if you spray it in, according to Material Safety Data Sheets posted by manufacturers under U.S. and European law.
Formate is produced and licensed as a deicer by BASF, the German chemical giant. BASF sells the stuff “as an airport runway de-icer in Europe, but it was not available here until 2015″ when he licensed it for home and business applications, Clemmer says. BASF produces the stuff at a plant in Louisiana, then ships it by tanker rail car to Souderton, where SynaTek packages it as a liquid spray. “It’s like ‘their flour, our chocolate chips’,” Clemmer told me. “No nasty granulars. It keeps every floor and sidewalk from turning into a mess. It does not track into buildings. It is residue free.”
It’s more expensive than salt or potassium chloride; the company says a single application to a typical home walkway and front sidewalk costs about $5.50, or 90 cents just for front steps, compared to pennies for salt. “It’s not a parking-lot product, it’s an entry-way product you use in the first 15 or so feet when you enter or leave a building,” to avoid damaging landscaping or tracking white salt onto rugs and into offices, Clemmer added.
Branch Creek is the latest product line for a hometown family business that dates to 1869. “Souderton was four corners then — a bank, a bar, a church, and a feed mill,” Clemmer told me. “We owned the [Mennonite] church and the feed mill. I wish we’d had the bank and the bar,” he cracked. The bank grew up to be Union Trust (Univest), one of the largest lenders still based in the Philadelphia area. The feed mill in its current iteration is SynaTek, still in Souderton, with branch offices and warehouses in Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states.