Leading manufacturer of iodine-based specialty chemicals
Anyone of a certain age will likely associate the word “iodine” with the orange-red liquid in the small, glass bottle often found in medicine cabinets and survival kits that was used to disinfect wounds. It was often the antiseptic of choice that doting parents brushed onto cuts and bruises before telling their wayward children to be more careful next time. “Iodine has been used in antiseptics for a very long time. And that will probably continue; it’s very effective,” says Steve Wachnowsky, Vice President and General Manager of Deepwater Chemicals (DWC), an Oklahoma-based company that manufactures specialized organic and inorganic iodine derivatives.
Wachnowsky is correct when he mentions iodine’s palliative uses. But in addition to its storied, therapeutic qualities, this chemical element of the halogen family with an atomic number of 53 is, actually, a very multifarious substance with a wide variety of applications. Iodide salts were first employed, medically, in the early 1900s as a treatment for a host of conditions, including metal poisoning, asthma, aneurisms, gout, syphilis, nephritis, and bronchitis. Tincture of iodine was used as a pre-operative, skin sterilization before surgery.
Iodine was first isolated by the French chemist, Bernard Courtois, in 1811. It’s name comes from the Greek word, ioeides, which means violet – the color of iodine vapor, although under standard conditions, iodine is bluish-black solid with a metallic luster. It is a relatively rare element – ranked 47th out of 60th in abundance. Iodine is found on Earth mainly as the highly water-soluble iodide ion I-, which concentrates in oceans and brine pools. Of the several places in which iodine occurs elsewhere, only two sources are useful commercially: the caliche, a sedimentary rock, found in Chile, and the iodine-containing brines of gas and oil fields, especially in Japan and the United States.
In fact, the first iodine production in the United States occurred when it was harvested from seaweed off the coast of California between 1917 and 1921. Some years later, the first commercial production of iodine came from brine pools in the state of Louisiana. Getting iodine from brine is how Deepwater Chemicals, itself, got started, when, in 1931, the original company, Deepwater Iodides, began recovering iodine from the brine associated with the oil and gas drilling operations in the Long Beach area on California’s southern coast. “The company survived as an iodine producer for many, many years,” says Pamela Curry, Deepwater’s Sales Manager. “And then in the 1970s, it started making derivatives.” Much of the Deepwater Iodides’ 50 different iodine-based chemicals went into animal feed and other commodity products: potassium iodide for use in photographic film and nylon tire cord; tincture of iodine for treating minor wounds; and silver iodide for cloud seeding to cause rain.
In the early 1990s, Deepwater Iodides moved to Oklahoma to be closer to another source of iodine, far away from California’s Orange County and closer to IOCHEM, one of the state’s leading iodine producers, and, today, one of Deepwater’s sister companies. “There’s a large brine reservoir in the area,” says Wachnowsky. “It’s basically an underground reservoir of iodine-rich brine.” That would be the Woodward Trench, which begins about 7,000 feet below the surface and helps define the town of Woodward as the “iodine capital of America” because of the extremely high concentration of iodine in its interstitial brine water. In fact, today, most iodine production in the United States comes from the iodine-rich, natural brines on the northern flank of the Anadarko Basin in northwestern Oklahoma.
When Deepwater Iodides moved east, it also tweaked its business model. “We no longer made a lot of the commodity products that went into animal feed and we concentrated more on niche industries in our product line” says Curry. Today, Deepwater Chemicals is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Toyota Tsusho Corporation and is a leading producer of iodine derivatives for domestic and export markets. “Our customers are located all over the world,” says Wachnowsky, “but we primarily do business in North America and Asia.”
Deepwater has a 44,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, including offices, laboratories, operating areas, and warehouses, on a 20-acre industrial park site, six miles west of Woodward, Oklahoma. Its primary focus is providing inorganic and organic iodine derivatives to the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, photographic, bio-medical, catalysts, coatings, weather modification, nylon, X-ray media, LCD, and acetic acid industries.
“We have a variety of assets,” says Wachnowsky. “We have different reactor sizes and capabilities, distillation, non-distillation, different materials of construction for our different reactors. So if a product contains iodine there is a high probability that we can produce it because of the flexibility of our facility.”
“Our portfolio, right now, is probably greater than 20 specific products with multiple variants depending on quality grades,” he says. Curry adds, “And each compound can be used in a variety of different applications.” Wachnowsky elaborates: “For example, one of the most common ones is potassium iodide. Potassium iodide will go into the oil and gas industry; it will go into pharmaceuticals; it will go into nylon as a heat stabilizer.” “The customer usually develops the need for a particular iodine derivative and they come to us for the product or ask us to make it,” Curry explains.
Other DWC products include those that end up in sanitizers and cleaners, pharmaceuticals, acetic acid production, soil fumigation, black and white film production, weather modification, nuclear medicine, oilfield chemical-corrosion inhibitors, CD manufacturing, metal cleaners, and primary catalyst in epoxy resin coatings. In addition, DWC provides custom manufacturing and scale-up services to the industries and customers it serves.
Regardless of the product, Wachnowsky sums up the company’s modus operandi: “What we really try to find are right applications for our products and we work closely with our customers to bring them value.” Providing that customer value has been made easier since Deepwater became wholly owned by Toyota Tsusho (a major Japanese trading firm belonging to the Toyota Group) in 2006. The parent company supplies all of DWC’s crude iodine from its three different affiliate producers – IOCHEM in Oklahoma, Nihon Tennen Gas in Japan, and Algorta Norte SA in Chile. “Those are the three leading countries of iodine production,” says Curry. “So we have a good resource for iodine and a way to funnel it through to downstream products.” In addition, Toyota Tsusho assists its subsidiary in getting new customers.
DWC is a member of SOCMA – the Society of Chemical and Manufacturer Affiliates. Its plant operates under current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), and its ISO 14001 Certification testifies to its adherence to sound environmental principles in the manufacturing of its products. Curry adds, “We are a registered FDA drug establishment facility and our products conform to USP (United States Pharmacopeia) quality standards. And that’s not a claim that every iodide derivative producer can make.”
According to Nick Shimbo, President of Deepwater Chemicals, the company’s long-term strategy is “to double the iodine consumption in iodide derivative products through product portfolio extension, new product development, entry into diverse markets, and strategic alliances with customers where Deepwater Chemicals adds business value. That is the over-arching business objective we have. We want to add value to our customers, so we look for those opportunities where we can come up with a win/win. We make high quality iodide products and we would match ours up against any other producer in the world.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Deepwater Chemicals, Inc.
WHAT: Leading manufacturer of iodine-based specialty chemicals
WHERE: Woodward, Oklahoma