The debate on climate change has continued for over a century now. The discovery was first done by scientists in the 19th century when ice ages and other natural changes were suspected in the environment. The effect of CFCs emitted by human activities started deteriorating the environment to a point where the UN finally had to put a foot down and call for the first conference on the environment in Stockholm in 1972.
Since then, many goals have been set by these yearly environmental conferences held by the UN to reverse the worsening climate situation. In this effort to save mother earth, many individuals, and organizations, leveraging the powers of science, started coming up with ways in which economic growth and sustainability could go hand-in-hand.
One such company, at the forefront of providing dynamic solutions to the world’s energy problems is Easy Energy Systems.
In the following interview, Mark Gaalswyk, the Founder and CEO elaborates on the inception story of the company and how it has been disrupting the energy industry by providing cutting-edge energy solutions.
Please brief our audience about EES, its USPs, and how it is currently positioned as a leading player in the bioenergy space.
Easy Energy Systems, Inc. has developed and patented a factory-built modular technology that can be rapidly deployed worldwide to help solve the problem of climate change for the world. It will do so by enabling the rapid commercialization of cutting-edge technologies for converting many greenhouse causing wastes into bioenergy and other value-added products.
Unlike most technologies, the self-contained automatic modular processes are combined differently for different waste feedstocks to create value-added green energy and biomaterials from all of the various otherwise waste by-products. This enables the financial models of most of the Easy Energy waste feedstock systems to provide for a complete system payback within five years or less – without government subsidies. (Although I am sure our customers will take them if offered)
Shed some light on EES’s offerings and how are these making an impact on the industry and your clients?
Most distribution of biomass, waste food products, dead trees causing forest fires, landfills, waste seaweed, palm fronds, and various other waste products are widely distributed across a region. Instead of placing one large centralized ‘mega plant’ system in one location – and then transporting the waste to the mega plant; the smaller scale Easy Energy Systems, Inc. distributed modular plants can be deployed much closer to the waste.
This may be a clearing in a forest for cleaning up the dead trees causing forest fires, besides large industrial manufacture creating food or paper waste, adjoining a municipal landfill, corn stalks near an ag cooperative, or next to an ocean shore for converting seaweed into valuable products.
The major advantage of this method is that you do not emit more greenhouse gases and energy transporting the waste than the value-added of the waste. The utilization of the patented modular technologies of Easy Energy Systems, Inc. allows for each individual process module to be removed and upgraded in the future to an even more modern and efficient process – should new technologies be developed.
This would be similar to how we all removed our 300 baud modems from our computers and installed 1200 baud or ethernet as the computer industry evolved. This solves the otherwise large problem of obsolescence in the emerging field of bio ‘green’ technologies for the end-user systems can be easily updated to the latest technology – like a ‘Lego’ simply removing one module and inserting a different updated process into its place.
This solved the problem of otherwise ‘obsolete’ inefficient systems littering the landscape – which has hindered the Bioenergy arena.
Mark, please brief us about yourself, your journey in the industry, and how you have contributed to the company’s success.
I am a ‘farm boy’ from southern MN, with training in physics and computer science from St Olaf College. When I returned to the family farm to help my brothers crop farm on our family’s 4,500-acre farm and raise hogs – I was becoming a bit ‘bored’ in the Winter months. Thus, I started my company (now known as Easy Automation, Inc.) in 1986 to perform programming and design services for others.
My early endeavors included performing contract work developing innovative ag technologies, including systems to perfectly aerate grain, the very first field soil mapping and variable rate fertilizer systems, and technologies to automatically validate systems for testing cables on military missiles and aircraft.
Instead of continuing to just do contract development work for others and then watching them develop large-scale businesses from my inventions – I decided to focus my efforts inward on technologies that I could build and sell myself.
As I needed a feed mill on my own farm, I decided to develop and build my own. I really did not like all of the manual bookkeeping associated with such a mill, I made it capture and store all needed information automatically so that all of my reports could be generated with the touch of a button.
The early years were not easy. I remember many nights of sitting out on the floor of the feed room, weeping because things were not going as planned. Not sure what it was, but I kept on going through this tiring time. While I now have approximately 20 patents today, my early patents were related to allowing a feed mill to automatically mix the perfect combination of ingredients according to a predefined perfect mode.
This removed the ‘guesswork’ from feeding groups of animals. It would do so by precisely weighing and mixing a different set of ingredients into a feed formulation for each week of an animal’s life. This was done so that groups of animals could be fed perfectly to create an ideal meat-type under maximized profitability. This patented ‘Automatic Phase Feeding Technology’ enabled the company to grow very quickly, and it received the INC 500 award as one of the fastest-growing companies in the USA.
Today, Easy Automation, Inc has over 3,000 feed mill customers feeding a majority of the nation’s swine and much of the nation’s chickens and dairy operations. The company, in recent years, has branched into doing very large-scale fertilizer plants that are also needing extreme accuracy and automatic information storage. Easy Automation, Inc., a Welcome, MN-based company, is still 100% owned today by my family and my two sons, who run most of the day-to-day activities.
I tell people the company today is not what it is because I was necessarily ‘smart’ – in actuality, I made thousands of mistakes on my journey. It is what it is today because despite making about every mistake I could possibly make in starting and growing a company, I tried my best to learn from those mistakes. Along the way, I have met some great business mentors.
My very first board member was the first engineer ever hired by Medtronic. I remember him telling me in those early years, “Don’t ever let yourself grow so quickly or become so large that you do not have time to be out with your customers.” Thus, I have taken that to heart and spend much of my time out with customers and learning first-hand what problems they have and how I might help them solve them.
I also take to heart the wise words stated by a business associate who had built up a very large successful company. I was invited to present at the annual meeting for his employees on our technology. Before I spoke, he stated – Staff, we as a company don’t sell anything. Our job is to listen to the problems of our customers and focus on helping them solve all those we can possibly help them with (even if not necessarily related to the products we sell). If we do that, our customer’s response will be to then buy from us because we brought solutions to their problems.
Another strong value we have tried to push is integrity and empathy for our customers. When a customer is down, they don’t want to call in and get a voice mail – or be told we can’t get at it for a week. They want it solved now. Thus, we are a company that gives everything we have to deliver the best customer service we possibly can – even 365 days per year and 24 hours per day after-hours support.
These various values make up what we see to be our ‘company culture’. As the CEO, I believe my job is to be visionary, help solve difficult problems, but even more essentially, be sure the values of who we are as a company are upheld throughout everything we do.
Lastly, in the growth of Easy Automation, Inc. – I also was fortunate to have some very talented sons who literally worked beside me as young boys. They have now grown up and taken what I started and have then continued to build it even further into what it is today.
Being an experienced leader, share with us your opinion on what impact has the adoption of modern technologies such as AI had on the bioenergy space and what more could be expected in the future?
I have been using a ‘form’ of artificial intelligence in many of the various products I have created in the past. Back then, the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ was not even a phrase used in the business like it is today. Instead, my philosophy was to not just have our systems ‘automate’ a process but also have it continuously capture and store every piece of actual operating information it could – all the time while the technology was operating.
This information would then be used to allow the automation system to automatically ‘tune’ and improve itself. This would be what today is called ‘Machine Learning’. I was fortunate enough to be able to patent many of these concepts as they applied to perfectly making and mixing animal feed and now fertilizer.
I believe this same concept will also prove critical in making bio-energy technology deployment successful. The reason is that oftentimes new technologies work ‘perfectly’ in the lab, yet when they are deployed into the real world, they end up being multi-million-dollar disasters. A common reason for this is that the deployed did not automatically detect ‘variations’ in the incoming waste streams, outside temperatures, PH, etc., as they changed.
I have made the focus of my bioenergy company ‘Easy Energy Systems, Inc.’ to gather all the information on feedstock and operating variation that we can and then automatically also ‘tune’ and improve itself – just like I did back when I designed the early feed mill automation systems.
While altering and ‘tuning’ its operating parameters based on changing conditions or feedstocks is half the equation – continuously capturing and storing historical operating parameters and values from all operations in a database, the capability is then there to go back and look at all of the data and have the system automatically improve its operation based on the captured historical data.
My vision is for Easy Energy Systems, Inc. to deploy thousands of its factory-built modular systems at customer sites worldwide, and have all of them continuously collect operating data, and then utilize the collection of this varied data of different feedstocks and different operating conditions worldwide back to a central network database to continually develop and improve ideal system ‘settings’ for various feedstocks and conditions for all of the customers as a group.
It is my belief that this is critical for the system to perform correctly, and the lack of this capability is why many other bioenergy technologies fail shortly after deployment in the ‘real’ world.
Taking into consideration the current pandemic, what initial challenges did you face, and how did you drive your company to sustain operations while ensuring the safety of your employees at the same time?
We immediately told all employees who could stay and work from home. Although we needed to update our ‘remote’ capability systems, this worked better than I had expected for the electrical, mechanical, software engineering departments. It also worked well for our many people performing phone service.
We then divided our manufacturing area into widespread sections of ‘work cells’ to keep people as far apart as possible. So far, we have, for the most part, avoided workplace COVID-19 infections.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the bioenergy solutions market?
Be ‘mentally’ ready for everyone you know to call you a ‘fool’. In fact, it is interesting that in the case of my very most profitable and industry-changing inventions and technologies, the so-called ‘experts’ told me, “Don’t you know you can’t do that? It will never work.”
My problem now is that since I have been around this development ‘merry go round’ so many times – when I now hear ‘you fool’ – I actually think to myself… Great, this is going to be very profitable and world-changing!
Related to this, never give up. When discouraged, dust yourself off and keep moving forward, even though it can be incredibly ‘lonely’ at times.
How do you envision scaling EES’s operations and offerings in 2021?
I truly believe Easy Energy Systems Inc. has the patented modular technology needed to cure the problem of climate change in the world. Where needed, we have licensed cutting-edge technologies from others. I think of Easy Energy Systems Inc. as if it was the company ‘Lego’.
My patents are around its use of many different process modules, all working together in unison – much like a band conductor leads a band of many different musicians. While we ourselves have patents on various cutting edge ‘Lego Block Colors’, we need the technologies and enhancements of others (just like other instruments in a band, to truly make the ‘music’ of solving climate change).
As an example, we can turn a dead tree that would have otherwise burned in the forest – into liquid sugar. We have patented technologies that can convert solid dry waste byproducts into readily useable liquids- without the addition of water.
We can convert the green waste into a valuable soil amendment that can increase crop yields by up to 40%. We are now testing a technology to convert seaweed into a valuable feed amendment to remove 82% of the greenhouse gases of cows. We have recently licensed the right to use a nanobubble technology to be able to instantly clean up dirty water and/or enhance animal growth.
We have licensed another technology that can capture 50 tons of carbon per year. Another technology can convert corn into a valuable product worth up to $10 per bushel of corn. Lastly, we have licensed a technology that can convert biomass into a coal additive that will allow existing coal-fired power plants to keep operating and still meet the Paris accords.
While the last five years have been a tough political and investor climate for green energy companies such as us, we are now feeling a renewed invigoration for our products.
In preparation for the massive onslaught of opportunities we are feeling, I am in the process of completing a reverse merger so we can become a full publicly traded company for those who are interested in helping us on our journey can participate financially. With this, we then expect to bring in 400 people to ramp up the manufacturing activities of our factory-built modular systems.
Exhibiting True Excellence
Over the years, Easy Energy Systems has received various awards, including:
- Technology Leader of the Year Award for the State Of MN
- Inc 500 award as one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the USA
- Numerous US Ag Engineering Awards for various developed technologies.
- One of 4 ‘Top Small Business Leaders in the Nation’ as awarded by the US Congress
- Asked to testify on our technology at the White House
- Asked to testify on our technology at the US Congress
- The software I designed was what stopped the mad cow disease a number of years ago in only 24 hours.
- Recipient of the ‘Fire Starter Award’ as one of the ‘Top 12 Most World-Changing Ideas on the Planet’, as selected by 4,000 scientists. (Interestingly, a company called “Tesla” received the award just one year before we did.)