By Maureen Werther
Tom and Cynthia Eletto’s company, Empire Foam Solutions, gives new meaning to the phrase, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Founded in 2008, the company began manufacturing and installing polyurethane foam as insulation in commercial buildings and residences.
However, as an entrepreneur Tom soon began “tweaking” his manufacturing formulations and developed an ultra-high density foam that is resistant to water, making it a valuable product for the maritime industry.
Large boats and barges—many of them up to 300 feet in length—can’t simply be lifted out of the water and re-welded when they begin to rust and deteriorate from age. By analyzing each problem as it arises, Eletto develops solutions that will keep large boats and barges afloat, he said.
Today, Empire Foam Solutions is busy installing high density foam as flotation on barges in several locations, said Eletto. Winning a bid to install foam as flotation on barges working on the Erie and Champlain systems for the state Division of Canals back in 2012 launched the company into the maritime market. They have stabilized vessels in Boston, Rhode Island, Peoria and St. Louis and opportunities are percolating across the country.
According to Eletto, the company just completed a big project in Fort McMurray, Canada, for Syncrude Canada Ltd., one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic crude oil from oil sands and the largest single-source producer in Canada.
“They had a barge that was about to capsize in the middle of a pristine lake. This barge was an essential component for a work community of 20,000. All of the water pumps and storage tanks for the population’s water supply were located on that barge,” said Eletto.
His crew first plugged the leaks and stabilized the bottom of the barge from the inside, and coated the entire interior of the barge with a food-grade polyurea and then used a 2.8 pounds-per-cubic-foot density foam to buoy the barge and prevent it from capsizing and causing significant environmental damage to the lake.
Empire Foam Solutions is based in Saratoga Springs, with a manufacturing facility in nearby Schenectady.
Today, in addition to commercial and residential buildings projects, Eletto has two crews trained in barge remediation. The company also has a patent pending on its new low-cost spray foam machine, called the M-Power System.
Eletto said he invented the machine himself and calls it a “cool innovation,” as well as being one of the lowest priced, high-capacity machines in the industry.
“We have already sold a few prototypes and, once we have our patent, we will begin to sell them commercially,” he said.
Building boats was a childhood hobby for Eletto, but he did not begin his career in the foam insulation and maritime industries. He worked for Blue Cross–Blue Shield of Northeastern NY and then with General Electric Power Systems in software development.
After leaving GE in 1998, Eletto went into residential home building, focusing on making homes as energy efficient as possible. In the process, he became interested in the “chemistry” of making polyurethane foam. He spent the next two years researching and learning about it, often partnering with other chemists and developing his own formulations.
Ultimately, he and his wife Cynthia, who is the company’s CFO, made the decision to manufacture it themselves.
Eletto is optimistic about the future of Empire Foam Solutions and is eager to expand into other regional markets with both the high-density maritime polyurethane product, as well as the M-Power foam-spraying machine.