Fighting Pollution with Innovation
Why is it taking so long?
That’s a question Michelle Shively MacIver fielded from a potential investor in True Pigments, a social enterprise of Rural Action that is working to turn acid mine drainage (AMD) that taints many local streams into a marketable pigment for paint and other products.
“I was explaining that our facility is being built on a flood plain, to which she asked why we don’t build it somewhere else,” says Michelle, True Pigments Director of Project Development. “I tried to explain that having it on Sunday Creek is the whole point. That’s what we’re trying to clean. This is our home, our people, our community. The whole reason we spent 10 years creating this technology is to clean this stream.”
The question reveals many might be unfamiliar with how a social enterprise works. Yes, being profitable and quick to market is important. But the effort to clean Sunday Creek is just as important, if not more so.
Rural Action now supports six social enterprises: Zero Waste Event Productions, Chesterhill Produce Auction, UpCycle Ohio Thrift, the Community Makerspace, Appalachian Understories, and True Pigments.
Rural Action has been working on watershed restoration for 30 years and has improved 74 miles of streams. But the AMD discharge at Sunday Creek in Truetown needed a big fix. With considerable help from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Ohio University, Rural Action launched True Pigments, which will treat the 988 gallons of AMD entering Sunday Creek every minute.
In 2021, Michelle and our partners at Ohio University, ODNR, and other entities worked to prepare for construction to begin on the True Pigments plant.
“We had a chance to run more experiments on site at Truetown during 2021 and we answered some of the lingering questions that we’ve had on how to scale up the process,” Michelle says. “Moving into 2022 , when we’ll be breaking ground, we ran the pilot plant through specific batches, doing new experiments, and running it continuously. We harvested more iron to send to Gamblin Artist Colors for use in paint.”
True Pigments also brought in West Tech, a Salt Lake City-based engineering firm that has experience scaling up big industrial plants.
“We updated the business plan and met with potential investors,” she says. “Talking with investors is a lot of educational outreach. It’s such a niche business. It’s not a traditional pigment or wastewater treatment business. It’s this weird thing no one else is doing right now for profit. That’s been a learning curve.”
To her credit, the potential investor finally came to understand True Pigments’ goals and why an alternative location wasn’t an option. “We have people who have asked for second and third meetings on investment, but we’re still navigating that,” Michelle says.
“We’ve created the conceptual foundation and framework for both the business and the physical plant,” she says. “It’s really exciting because we’re going to be breaking ground soon.”