Borax is the world leader in developing new uses for borates, minerals that hold vast potential for two basic reasons: First, they’re safe. Used for centuries, borates pose no risk to people, animals or the environment under normal handling and use. Second, they’re versatile. In some applications, there is simply no substitute for borates. In other products and processes, their natural functions impart a wide range of performance, cost, environmental, health and safety advantages.
One of the major new innovations for borates is as a clean, renewable energy source for stationary and mobile applications. Borax has partnered with Millennium Cell, a leader in hydrogen storage technology, to advance the use of sodium borohydride as an efficient means of carrying hydrogen. Sodium borohydride can be used as a fuel for vehicles that has the same performance range as that of gasoline. The benefits of this fuel are many: It is non-flammable, it has a high energy density, it generates no emissions (except water vapor), and spent fuel is recyclable. Also, because it is water-based, it is not combustible.
“Millennium Cell’s Hydrogen-on-Demand™ technology – which is based on sodium borohydride – has major advantages over other hydrogen technologies,” says CEO Preston Chiaro. “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future.”
Chiaro explains that drivers will refuel their vehicles with sodium borohydride just as they do gasoline. The only change will be that there will be two spouts: one to fill the tank and the other to retrieve the spent fuel for recycling. The sodium borohydride fuel is already being used in the Chrysler Natrium, a prototype version of its Town and Country minivan.
Many new borate applications are extensions of existing uses. Chiaro cites ceramic tiles as an example. While borates have been used in ceramic glazes for centuries, clay tile bodies had been made without them until recently. Borax researchers found that using borates in the tile body allows manufacturers to produce thinner, stronger tiles that require lower firing time and temperatures, which saves energy; and allows manufacturers to use a broader range of raw material, lowering transportation costs and related emissions in the process.
Borax products are also featured in advances in the field of wood preservation. Borates have long been used to protect interior wood building materials from insect and decay damage. Because they are soluble in water, the company has not adapted this application for exterior wood treatment until now. New applications for zinc borates as preservatives for engineered wood and other exterior applications are undergoing final field tests now and hold great promise as a durable, environmentally friendly application.
Chiaro believes Borax has “a responsibility to the marketplace” to develop new products and continuously find new applications for borates. “We are the only company in the world to do research on the properties of borates – chemical, physical and biological,” he says.
Chiaro notes that the company’s development of new products is constant. When assessing ideas for new uses of borates, the company analyzes every angle of the application and then develops the best. “Our process for development is structured for efficiency and speed to use on the market,” Chiaro says. The company will partner with universities, customers and its sister companies – almost anyone who can add value to its innovation process. “We try to reach broadly for new ideas,” Chiaro says. “We have many new partnerships underway. When partnering with customers, we don’t only provide borates, we provide an entire package of technical support and expertise.”
“More than one-quarter of Borax’s annual expenditures are devoted to providing customers with value-added services – including technological, distribution, regulatory and communications support – and that investment has paid off,” Peever says. “The heart of the commercial strategy has been to influence customers to treat borate purchases as a value-conscious partnership rather than a commodity purchase. Our first goal when it comes to commercial transactions is to determine the value we can bring to customers.”