An eastern Iowa company’s ethanol-based products are being shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan to help U.S. soldiers clean up. Lisbon, Iowa-based “B4 Brands” makes a number of hand hygiene products that use ethanol rather than petroleum as a base ingredient.
Dave Jansen, vice president of operations for the company, says a University of Iowa professor and one of his students — the company’s founders — were inspired by the plight of a family member.
“One of Mike’s daughters had leukemia and had a very seriously-compromised immune system and as a result of that situation, they began looking for ways to make it so that every time she picked up a cold she did not end up in a hospital,” Jansen says. “Hand sanitizers was really kind of at the beginning stages at that point and they were looking back in ’99 and 200 at this and slowly moved forward until in 2002 the company was formed and we went on from there.”
The four-and-a-half-year-old company’s corporate headquarters are in Lisbon. Its production plant is in Missouri where 60 workers make six varieties of soap and hand sanitizers. Jansen says the challenge is to keep up with demand.
“The first six months, it’s…like getting started but I think we were up about 1,400 percent in the first year-over-year…and then we were up another 800 percent on the next year so, you know, the growth has been dynamic and very large and yet the market has been exploding,” Jansen says. “It’s not a case where we’re looking at anywhere close to being tapped out.”
Some of the company’s products are made with an ethanol content as high as 95 percent. Their biggest customer is the federal government, and they’ve been sending soap as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is in the process of giving the company’s products special “preferred” status for government contracts and that could open even more doors.
“If that were to come true then it really strengthens our case with like, the Veterans Hospitals…one of the places we’d like to go,” Jansen says. Jansen would like to see state legislators develop a list of bio-based products like the ethanol-based B4 soaps and hand sanitizers that state government agencies must purchase if they’re available and as economical as similar petroleum-based products.