Beetle-kill pellets find new purpose in absorbing oil and gas spills |

Beetle-kill pellets find new purpose in absorbing oil and gas spills

WALDEN, CO-May 03, 2013: Mark Mathis, who works for Confluence Energy, holds a product, made from beetle kill trees, that is used to absorb oil spills, May 03, 2013. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

Mark Mathis was looking pretty smart in early 2008.

He was harvesting Colorado beetle-kill timber and converting the state’s flood of dead trees into pellets for affordable home heating. Then the price of oil collapsed — falling by more than $100 a barrel in a year — and suddenly, pellets were no longer the inexpensive option for heat. Mild winters further eroded pellet demand, and Mathis’ once-boundless plan withered along with the entire biomass and alternative-energy industries.

Five years later, Mathis’ Kremmling-based Confluence Energy is surging with a new mission.

“We are taking on kitty litter,” he said.

Mathis is doubling down on his plan to capitalize on environmental concerns, this time with a biodegradable beetle-kill product that cleans up oil, gas and solvent spills better and cheaper than the widely used clay-based products, such as cat litter. The company’s Eco-Sponge is becoming popular with oil and gas operations across the country, and strong sales — already passing the company’s heating pellets — have enabled Confluence to acquire its competitor, Rocky Mountain Pellets in Walden, doubling its capacity and making Confluence the largest pellet maker in the West.

Mathis’ Eco-Sponge aims to end the reign of clay-based absorbents in environmental cleanup work with its simplicity. Where those clay bits need to be removed once they absorb oil, gas or benzene spills, Eco-Sponge’s patented army of microorganisms consume the hydrocarbons and can be left on site as an inert material.

Mathis calls it “a composting process on steroids.”

“How often in life do you get to offer solutions for cleaning up an environmental mess like the pine beetle while making a renewable energy source and cleaning up another environmental issue? And make money doing it?” said Mathis over the din of the Walden plant’s maze of pellet-making machines.

The Eco-Sponge takes the pine-beetle business “to the next level,” Mathis said.

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