Edina is known for its shops of distinction, fine dining, great schools and well-plowed streets. Perhaps less know, however, is that it’s home to individuals whose innovation and technological advances affect lives both here in the community and all over the world. Dow Water & Process Solutions, housed at the FilmTec plant, is a water-purification business and the largest producer of reverse-osmosis membranes in the world. In fact, if you calculated the water processed by its technology around the world, you could fill up 21 Olympic-size pools per minute.
These reverse-osmosis membranes are placed inside larger systems to remove unwanted minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and sodium, along with other impurities, making it safe to drink. Most water applications that rely on reverse osmosis are actually for industrial use, points out Ian Barbour, general manager of Dow Water & Process Solutions and CEO and President of FilmTec Corporation. Everything from growing cotton to making a car to generating electrical power requires a lot of clean water. When manufacturing an iPhone, for instance, “you need to rinse the parts, and a single ion contaminant could short-circuit the device,” says Barbour. Dow’s water-purification technology has even made it into the ejection-pack seats of fighter planes, so if pilots have to bail, they can purify water from a body of salt water.
But you wouldn’t recognize Dow’s technology just by looking at a water purifying system. That’s because at FilmTec, workers are focused on developing the membrane in the center of each system. “We don’t make the whole system,” points out Barbour, “we make the heart of the system. The membrane is the magic … the thing that’s actually doing the purification and the separation of the contaminates.” The membrane is able to separate contaminates thanks to the principles of reverse osmosis, which allows the separation of polluted water into two streams–pure, fresh water and a more concentrated polluted one.
“When you consider that 98 percent of water on earth is seawater, and you look at the fundamentals of water scarcity on this planet,” says Barbour, “you can see that this is fairly useful and meaningful technology.” The demand for clean water is high, and, as Barbour suggests, the solution lies in conservation, water reuse, and desalination–areas Dow is invested in advancing on a global scale. In fact, the company is currently producing modules for the largest seawater desalination plant ever built, which purifies Mediterranean Sea water in Israel. “We take our responsibilities seriously,” adds Barbour, “there’s a meaning to the work that people do here.” Duane Jacobson, a process research manager at Dow, agrees. “We’re right in the middle of the global water challenges, and we just feel great about doing something good for humanity,” he says.
But not all of Dow Water & Process Solutions’ efforts are headed overseas. The company takes pride in being part of Edina and regularly participates in community events, like the Great American Cleanup, when employees plant flowers at city hall. “We’ve grown up here, Edina has been a great place for us,” says Barbour, who is thankful the company has been able to grow the business globally right from home. “We recognize our license to operate depends on being a good citizen.”
Some Dow employees have taken their commitment to a whole new level by volunteering to mentor the Edina High School robotics team. Jacobson was thrilled when he learned that Dow was to sponsor the team and decided to jump right in, helping the kids build robots and assisting at competitions, even though there were only two teams in the state. Now, about six years later, there are 160 teams in Minnesota, and the Edina Green Machine has made a trip to nationals. Jacobson, whose son is on the team, has noticed, “it’s almost more collaborative than competitive, even though it’s a competitive sport,” since the team does a lot of outreach and mentors other teams. The final competition takes place on a large indoor field, where the robots must perform certain tasks. Last year it was like a 3-on-3 basketball game, where robots grab foam basketballs and make points. With all of the mentorship time the students receive from Dow engineers and employees, “it’s almost becoming a technical training,” says Jacobson.
Dow is not the only technology and engineering face in the Edina area; over the years there have actually been a number of industrial businesses. Marci Matson, executive director of the Edina Historical Society, points out that the odd 49½ street near 50th and France used to be a brick factory plant in the early ’20s. Today, Edina is also home to Recon Robotics, which creates micro-robot systems used in the U.S. military, and Peter’s Billiards has a manufacturing plant in Edina.