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Making the flowers last a little longer


What if you bought cut flowers and they continued to bloom for a month, or if vegetables stayed fresh and safe to eat in your refrigerator for weeks at a time?

A West Des Moines company believes it has found a way to accomplish those feats and much more, and has begun marketing the technology to businesses that peddle perishable products.

Led by Wes Boldt, who once made glass-enclosed display cases, CO2 Technologies has developed a commercially feasible way to harness carbon dioxide and use it as a slow-acting preservative.

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide slows decay in organic materials. The trick, as Boldt describes it, was to create an inexpensive device that can release the gas consistently in very small amounts over either a few days or a few weeks, depending on the application.

“The key was the delivery system,” he said.

Boldt’s innovation was to create an absorbent pad that could be dipped in a proprietary mixture, and later be dried out and packaged in an airtight container for storage.

Once the pad is exposed to air, humidity causes it to begin to release its load of carbon dioxide. Some pads will release carbon dioxide for a few days. Others last longer. The pads are cheap, costing a fraction of a cent apiece to produce, and can be placed just about anywhere.

The company has already won a variety of customers, including Chilean fishermen who ship their catches to U.S. markets, poultry producers, grocery stores and florists. Indeed, the Boesen family, third-generation owners of Des Moines’ biggest florist, let Boldt’s scientists perfect their product over an 18-month period, using Boesen’s flower refrigerators as a sort of test kitchen.

What the Boesens found was that flowers in the refrigerators containing CO2 Technologies’ pads stayed fresh-looking far longer than those in refrigerators without the pads, and that bacteria developed at a much slower rate. They were so convinced of the results that they bought a portion of the company.

“The flowers’ colors were brighter and they felt more robust,” Ed Boesen said. “We left buckets of flowers in there for a month, and I reached my hand in there and they crunched just like fresh lettuce. Before those pads from CO2, those things would have been slimy and you wouldn’t have been able to stand the smell of them.”

Boldt’s biggest task now is to find large-scale buyers for the pads. He is pursuing meetings with Kroger Co., Hy-Vee Inc., Dole Food Co. and others. Food distributors are another possibility, as are retailers willing to sell the product in their stores to the general public.

Boldt didn’t invent the technology for the pads. That credit belongs to a former engineer from Rockwell International Corp. whose daughter owned a home-baked cookie business. As Boldt describes it, the daughter complained that she was having to throw away a third of her cookies and asked her father if there was anything he could do to make them last a little longer. The engineer solved the problem with a carbon dioxide insert for her cookie case.  Boldt, who sold his display case business in 1997, was bored and looking for another challenge. One of his former salesmen bumped into the engineer and called Boldt immediately. Boldt bought the rights to the technology and his team spent the next five years developing ways to make the pads marketable.

The young company has a research and production facility in Grimes and Boldt has hired a researcher from the University of Florida to conduct a formal study on the effects of carbon dioxide on cut flowers.

“One of our challenges is getting people to understand the economic impact of what this will do for them,” Boldt said. “Boesen saw the benefit. People are used to something having a certain shelf life, and when it goes past that, they get really excited.”

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