Natural cleanup method keeps firm ‘chugging along’

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

When you hear Amber Kivisto enthuse about her company’s success, you can’t help recalling one of Edith Piaf’s signature torch songs, which translates into English as “I regret nothing.”

Certainly Kivisto is not sorry about remaining in the Thunder Bay region, nearly a decade after she co-founded a new enterprise by merging the worlds of microbiology and business.

Following graduation in biology from Lakehead University, “there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for jobs, so we wanted to come up with something that would allow us to stay in this area,” Kivisto said Thursday.

What Kivisto and her business partner, Miranda Lock, came up with was BioNorth Solutions, a Rosslyn-based firm that utilizes soil-based microbes to clean up industrial sites contaminated with pollutants like oil and diesel naturally.

Kivisto, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in biology, is company president. Lock, who holds a PhD in environmental biotechnology, serves as the firm’s chief science officer.

“Here we are,” Kivisto said, “nearly 10 years later, still chugging along.”

And receiving accolades. The company was recently feted as a recipient of a RBC Northwestern Ontario Innovation Award for branching out into agriculture by applying its technology to farmers’ fields.

“The societal impact of their project is immense,” a statement about the award said. “This includes job creation, improved livelihoods for farmers, soil remediation and a reduction in health risks associated with excessive fertilizer use.”

Though BioNorth counts heavy-hitters like Resolute Forest Products and Impala Canada among its corporate clients, it has also completed several cleanup projects on remote First Nations, where diesel-fuelled generators remain the only source of electricity.

Tiny microbes can’t be seen by the naked eye, but they are there, immersed in the dirt. As many as a trillion could be working away at a single cleanup site, Kivisto said.

The company’s “niche” is the use of organisms native to Northern Ontario. They work well because they’re already adapted to the region’s colder climate, Kivisto said.

Tests have shown that when BioNorth’s microbe products are applied to crop soils, it results in improved root and water uptake, which leads to greater plant yields.

Over the past year, the company has transitioned from its Thunder Bay roots to two buildings on Rosslyn’s Twin City Crossroad. Kivisto puts the investment associated with the move at about $500,000.