Sen. Joni Ernst visited Gross-Wen Technologies (GWT) in Slater Friday, the first stop on a tour that also took her to Dallas and Greene counties.
The mission of the company is to use algae to clean wastewater, a process that Slater is implementing at a savings of $1 million as it improves its wastewater treatment facility to meet more stringent Department of Natural Resources requirements.
“It really sets the community up, not just for cost savings and investment in wastewater treatment, but also being able to meet the demands of tomorrow’s DNR, tomorrow’s EPA,” Ernst said.
With several other local leaders present for the visit, GWT founder and President Martin Gross presented some of the highlights of the business and also shared some of the struggles it faces, especially in the area of obtaining grants and other state and federal funding.
Ernst offered suggestions for facing these struggles, including enlisting the help of the Iowa League of Cities.
The positives discussed were many, including the fact that the very presence of the business on Slater’s Main Street has helped revitalize the small community’s downtown. GWT opened in Slater in December and is the headquarters for 12 full-time employees.
The building was dilapidated when GWT bought it from the city for $1.
GWT used a $100,000 Catalyst grant from the state of Iowa and a façade grant from Story County to spruce up the building, at 404 Main St., creating an industrial feel with the use of metal and greenhouse glass like that used in its algae-based nutrient recovery stations.
GWT uses its patented wastewater treatment technology, known as the revolving algal biofilm (RAB) system, to cost-effectively meet new wastewater discharge permits.
The RAB system uses algae to recover nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, a system that is more affordable than traditional methods. The algae consume carbon dioxide and generate oxygen, both of which are healthy processes to battle climate change.
The harvested algae are then turned to pellets that are rich in nitrogen and phosphorus and which can be used as fertilizer or bioplastics.
The process has low costs for energy and operation, and it does not require costly carbon or chemical inputs.
Gross and his professor, Dr. Wen, created the patented process while Gross was a graduate student at Iowa State University.
Gross credits the city of Slater and its Mayor John Kahler for being forward thinking in choosing GWT back in December of 2018.
“Slater was considering a $6 million alternative,” Gross said. “However, I’m happy to say by using our system, the community saved over $1 million.”
“It’s phenomenal that the city is able to save money but also do it in a green way,” Ernst said.
GWT has done wastewater treatment for the city of Chicago and is currently also treating wastewater for the city of Ackley.
GWT is a member of the ISU Startup Factory’s inaugural cohort that graduated in June 2017 and is part of the Ag Startup Engine.
Ernst said she was excited about the work being done by GWT and hoped to see more Iowa communities using the algae-based technology.
Ernst’s stop in Slater was part of her 99-county tour as she kicks off her re-election campaign. Ernst is serving her first term and is Iowa’s first woman to serve in the United States Senate.
She recently turned in 23,812 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office, which is seven times the minimum signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
Ernst’s approval ratings are currently low, with a report from the Morning Consult showing Ernst with only a 37 percent approval rating among Iowa voters. According to the survey, 42 percent of Iowans disapprove of her as a senator.
During Ernst’s visit, protesters had placed posters on some cars and trucks on Slater’s Main Street, pointing to issues ranging from Planned Parenthood to Black Lives Matter.
Ernst kicked off her re-election campaign at her annual Roast and Ride event in June, and said her campaign was aimed to represent all Iowans and their values and “protect the balance between government responsibility and individual liberty.”
With no primary challenger on the Republican side, Ernst will await her Democratic challenger after the June 2 primary.
The five Democratic candidates vying to unseat Ernst are real estate executive Theresa Greenfield, retired Navy admiral Michael Franken, attorney Kimberly Graham, businessman Eddie Mauro and contractor Cal Woods.