[USA] The smell was overwhelming. A neighbor’s dog had just jumped into the pond behind Craig and Sandra Burton’s house near Newark, releasing a plume of putrid odors.
But with that stink came inspiration.
“The pond had an algae bloom and it was nasty,” Sandra recalled. “So we did some research and discovered the best solution was aeration, which basically means bubbling some air through the water.”
Craig cobbled together an aeration unit with some solar panels from his garage, a rudimentary device he continued to modify over the years.
His homemade solution eventually became the prototype for the PondHawk, a patented solar-powered aeration system now being sold by the couple’s startup Linne Industries.
Launched in 2013, the home-based business is slowly gaining a foothold in the market with more than 50 units installed in 14 states and South Korea. The self-financed company just signed a deal with a Colorado-based distributor, plans to ship its first PondHawk to Canada and is expected to break even later this year.
PondHawk uses solar energy to power a compressor that forces air up through the bottom of a pond at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club. The system keeps the pond oxygenated while the movement helps prevent stagnation.
“It’s been slow going early on, but things are starting to pick up,” said Sandra, who serves as the company’s president and CEO. “In just the first three months of 2017, we’ve already shipped two-thirds of the total units we sold all of last year.”
Linne’s biggest customers so far have been golf courses, an industry struggling to hold down costs amid a downturn in the sport’s popularity.
“Golf course superintendents just get it right away,” the 52-year-old said. “They understand how to properly maintain ponds and they pick up quickly on the advantages of a PondHawk system.”
The main advantage is the ability to avoid the cost of electricity needed to power traditional aeration units and fountains, along with the price of running power lines through a well-maintained golf course.
With a retail price between $6,800 and $9,000, the PondHawk carries a high up-front cost with the promise of recouping that investment over time.
“Up-front cost is always an issue with solar because it’s like buying your car and your fuel at the same time,” Sandra said. “But when you look at this over a five-year term, we are so much more cost-effective.”
The opportunity to maintain ponds in a more environmentally friendly manner for less money helped convince Rehoboth Beach Country Club to become an early adopter.
The private course installed a PondHawk on the 10th hole in 2016. A second unit was installed last week in the water hazard leading to the 11th.
Superintendent Michael Maney said he expects to add more units in the coming years.
“The price comparison with our fountains is basically even and the power is free,” he said. “But the best part is that since we installed the first unit on 10, the water quality is the best it’s ever been.”
The PondHawk also is easier to set up and more durable than the dozens of solar-powered aeration systems sold by Linne’s competitors, Sandra said. The units can be installed in less than three hours, feature a proprietary controller that adjusts output based on available sunlight, and require little maintenance once in place.
“A lot of the other products out there were made by pond management guys who tinkered with solar,” she said. “Our team comes out of the solar industry so we were able to design a product that works year-round under all kinds of conditions.”
Craig Burton has built off-grid photovoltaic systems in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, while Sandra’s career has included stints with the U.S. Energy Department, the Hawaiian Electric Co. and SunEdison.
The couple moved to Delaware about 15 years ago when Craig landed a job with AstroPower, a solar technology pioneer spun out of University of Delaware laboratories that twice changed hands before ceasing operations in 2013.
The Burtons acquired all the company’s solar panels, which they now use in their PondHawk systems. The metal housings are fabricated at Eagle Group in Clayton.
Sandra says the company is now looking to hire a sales staff capable of helping the business reach a wider market, including homeowner’s associations, property management companies and developers.
In the meantime, the couple is largely doing all their own marketing, while also juggling product development, assembly and shipping from their two-car garage.
“In some ways, it’s great because we can tell customers all about how PondHawk cleaned up our own pond,” Sandra said. “But I’ll be really happy when we can grow the company big enough to get our garage back, too.”
Photo: Sandra Burton, president and CEO of Linne Industries, talks about PondHawk, a patented, solar-powered pond aeration system that produces the air bubbles needed to improve water quality. Megan Raymond
View original article at: Couple cleaned algae-fouled pond, started a business