THUNDER BAY — "We have always had this entrepreneurship spark inside of us," Elena Rogalski says.
She and her husband Viktor have developed a way to make insulation panels out of recycled extruded polystyrene (XPS) in the form of rice-sized beads produced from Type 6 plastic.
Among other uses, Type 6 plastic is used to protect appliances and other items that are shipped in boxes.
"Nobody actually recycles this in Canada or the U.S.," Rogalski said, so they believe they are helping the environment while simultaneously providing a more cost-efficient option for insulation.
Working out of leased space in the former Buchanan Northern Hardwoods plant in Rosslyn, the two hope to begin marketing their XPS insulation foam boards later this year.
The couple's Eco Carbon Foam boards will be made solely from recycled material, which they believe is a first in North America.
Elena, who manages the business, said the usual maximum amount of recycled content in XPS products is 20 per cent, but "we can offer 100 per cent. That's huge."
The Rogalskis are currently sourcing XPS beads in the United States, but also plan to recycle scrap polystyrene in their own plant.
For proprietary reasons, they won't disclose precisely what their production process involves.
They imported their manufacturing equipment in 2019 but are still waiting for certification before they can commercialize their operation.
Elena said it's not that easy to meet building code requirements.
"In Canada we have a very good system of providing people with the right products, and the government really watches that the end product complies with building codes. Right now we test our equipment, we try different raw materials in order to create the product that would fit those specifications."
The couple, both of whom were born in the former USSR, met in Germany.
They have three children, ages 12 to 16.
In 2006 they moved to Canada, first to Winnipeg, then to Thunder Bay where they began a stuccoing business in 2009.
Elena said her husband had driven through the city previously and was impressed by the area's natural beauty.
"We wanted to start our own business, but it's very difficult in Germany. In Canada, everybody helps you. It's more friendly for entrepreneurs."
She said they've received a lot of assistance with their new venture, in particular from the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre.
Currently, they have three employees but they project a need for 30 staff members when they are in full production.
"We think we have enough interest in the product to go 24/7," Elena said. "It's just a matter of time, and certification, and we are ready to go."
The couple described their Type Four insulation panel as being suitable for use underground, under slabs, on walls and on roofs.
Because of the structure, the Rogalskis feel their product provides better protection against water and can work better in certain situations than expanded polystyrene insulation or EPS.
They have already approached some local distributors.
"The interest is there but they need to see the paperwork first," Elena said.
After one more piece of equipment arrives, and final tests are done, they plan to apply for certification next month, and hope for a decision from the government by the end of July.