A family-owned German chemical producer with a relatively low profile in the United States is moving aggressively into U.S. territory.
Kreussler GmbH, a company that’s dominant in the European dry-cleaning industry, describes its new, green solvent, SystemK4—or SK4 for short—as being “innovative, environmentally friendly, nontoxic, biodegradable, and safe for ground, water, and humans.”
“We feel very strongly that this is historically our opportunity to change the industry and move it away from halogenated common solvents in many dry-cleaning establishments currently,” said Richard Fitzpatrick, vice president for operations at Tampa, Florida-based Kreussler Inc., the U.S. distribution, sales, and technical support arm for its German parent’s dry cleaning, wet cleaning, and commercial cleaning products.
Kreussler, which has led the European dry-cleaning market since 1985, has been awarded the German patent for SK4. An international patent is pending.
This move by Kreussler into the U.S. marketplace represents a major diversification for the company, whose main activity in the textile industry has been producing detergents, additives, and other support products for major dry-cleaning solvents available from other sources.
“It certainly is a solvent of interest to dry cleaners, many of whom are struggling with a decision about which alternative to embrace,” said Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association, based in New York City.
For years, the choices for consumers have been among an array of so-called “environmentally” friendly solvents cleaners can use—including perchloroethylene, or perc, the industry standard used in 80 percent of dry cleaners. An estimated 20,000 perc dry-cleaning machines are in use throughout the United States.
“Our goal is to replace perc as the industry standard within 10 years by demonstrating that SK4 offers the same or better performance in terms of cleaning and ease of use while providing safe and environmentally friendly operations,” Fitzpatrick said. “All this with lower operating costs and a healthier workplace.” Some types of dry-cleaning machines can be converted to use SK4, but perc machines cannot for technical reasons, Fitzpatrick explained.
So far, Kreussler has replaced aging perc systems in 13 plants in 10 states with 22 new machines that use SK4, Fitzpatrick said. The company wants to have between 75 and 100 SK4 users in the United States by the end of 2011.
“We’re installing one a week on average,” he said. “We have additionally converted 18 machines from other solvent types to SK4 in 15 more plants.”
The cost to a dry cleaner of a new machine that uses SK4 is approximately $70,000. Although a shade higher than what a dry cleaner pays for a regular solvent machine, converting an existing machine will consume between one half and one fourth steam energy and use between one third and one fourth less solvent, said Fitzpatrick.
One current user who switched from perc believes SK4 will become widely used. “Anybody over the next three years who can afford to finance the equipment will be using SK4. That’s how good it is,” said David Mering, owner-operator of Nor’East Cleaners, based in Gloucester, Massachusetts, who recently installed two machines using SK4 at a total cost of $150,000.
Kreussler plans to present the solvent at Clean, the national textile show for the cleaning industry in Las Vegas in June, in addition to regional shows and association meetings throughout the United States. Kreussler is also making use of Web-based social media.
Globally, the firm is expanding its presence with the solvent in Europe, Great Britain, and Russia and looking towards markets such as Japan and Southeast Asia for future growth.
“In another decade or so, SK4 will probably be the dominant solvent in the dry-cleaning industry worldwide,” Mering predicted.