2016 finalist

This project has been selected as a finalist in the Energy and Climate category:

safer products that work

Project Summary

This MnTAP project, sponsored by U.S. EPA Region 5, focuses on reducing area source emissions of air pollution to improve air quality and benefit human health and the environment. Through pilots at 23 industrial and automotive businesses, the project has decreased businesses’ air emissions by reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are carbon-based compounds found in many products and materials. VOCs evaporate and react to form ground-level ozone, contributing to smog, a harmful air pollutant. Reducing VOC emissions has positive impacts for general population health and the environment. This work will serve as a template for ongoing efforts within Minnesota to reduce area source VOC emissions as part of a larger effort to improve the state’s air quality.

MnTAP is working with businesses to identify alternatives to current degreasing aids, such as brake and engine cleaners. MnTAP has performed chemical analysis for 30 facilities, 23 of which are piloting new, greener alternatives. These alternatives perform as well but create less ozone. Beyond reducing the VOC emissions that lead to ozone and smog formation, the alternative products contain fewer hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), substances that also cause serious health problems.

Additional benefits include improving work environments for employees by reducing odors and improving indoor air quality; eliminating aerosol can purchase and disposal, thus reducing waste; and reducing business hazardous waste generator status. Said one employee at Lakeland Tool, “We noticed right away that there was a change, because the new cleaner does not smell as bad, but it works just as well!”

Aggressive Hydraulics, which manufactures cylinders in Cedar, Minn., was one of the degreaser replacement pilot project sites. One of the major cleaning processes within their facility involves using a degreaser to remove lubricant, metal chips, and grease from their hydraulic cylinders prior to assembly. For years, this has been done with an aerosol brake cleaner containing toluene, heptane, and acetone. Recently, in the interest of employee health, reducing pollution, and saving money, the company began looking at better degreasing options. After testing multiple alternatives, SuperClean degreaser was found to have the degreasing power to handle lightly soiled parts, or about three-quarters of the steel cylinders in the facility. SuperClean is VOC-free and is applied with a hand spray bottle instead of through an aerosol can, eliminating VOCs associated with aerosol propellant. As a water-based cleaner, it is less hazardous to employee health and the environment than the traditional aerosol brake cleaner. According to Bob Olson, the plant has cut their use of traditional brake cleaner by 75%. “MnTAP helped us find a safer product for our staff and we’re saving a little money, too.” Aggressive Hydraulics was able to save over $400 annually and reduce their VOC emissions by 1,330 pounds by using this water-based degreaser for their standard cleaning jobs.

Project Website


Project Partners

  • Minnesota Technical Assistance Program
  • Metro Counties Hazardous Waste Coordination Group
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5
  • City of Minneapolis Environmental Services
  • Businesses including Aggressive Hydraulics, Lakeland Tool and Engineering, and Lake Elmo Repair
  • The Minnesota Chapter of the Association for Facilities Engineers
  • Suppliers including Zep and O’Reilly Auto Parts
  • Alliance of Automotive Service Providers Minnesota (AASP-MN)
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • R.J. McClellan, Inc.

How did the project partners work together?

Partnership has been critical to the success of this project. Most importantly, 22 businesses and 1 government entity have dedicated their time and resources to making cleaner and greener changes in their business practices for the sake of their employees and our communities. These businesses have worked extensively with MnTAP on product evaluation and alternatives testing. In addition, 14 product suppliers have collaborated with MnTAP to identify and provide alternatives. MnTAP has submitted articles for publication to automotive journals to share the knowledge gained in this project with other business. Finally, this project would not have been possible without the support of U.S. EPA Region 5.

How is the project groundbreaking?

Through background research and firsthand experience, MnTAP understood at the outset of this project that there is commonly a bias against greener products in the business world. Businesses are often hesitant to try greener products because they believe that they will cost more or work less effectively. This project has helped change these perceptions.

MnTAP’s hands-on approach to working with businesses on-site to understand their current use of products, evaluate those products using a MnTAP-developed comparative risk assessment protocol, and provide samples of alternatives chosen by the company to solidify use at the facility has proven to be a successful formula. MnTAP has provided continuing support to participating businesses to help them find products that work, even if the first product sampled is not the best fit. Through this effort, MnTAP and project partners have gained firsthand knowledge of greener, healthier products. This information is being disseminated via a variety of media to other organizations and businesses so that they can make changes in their own workplaces.

What are the project goals?

The primary goal of this project is to reduce VOC emissions to improve indoor and outdoor air quality, benefiting worker and neighboring population health and the environment. This is achieved through support for the adoption of non-VOC, non-HAP degreasing solvents at industrial and automotive businesses.

What are the project outcomes?

As of February 2015, MnTAP has worked with 30 facilities to evaluate their products and identify alternatives. Recommendations have been made to 23 businesses, with a potential annual savings of:

  • 23,410 pounds of VOC air emissions
  • 4,400 pounds of solid waste
  • $13,230 in costs for MN businesses

Nineteen recommendations have been implemented thus far, with an annual savings of:

  • 2,890 pounds of VOC air emissions
  • 650 pounds of solid waste
  • $7,640 in costs for MN businesses

In addition, project results are being shared through case studies, presentations, and a webinar. This will allow other businesses across the state and country to encourage voluntary transition to less hazardous products.

Project Case Study:

A big win for employee health and air quality reduction at Lakeland Tool and Engineering in Anoka, MN, was the replacement of three different solvent-based aerosols used for mold cleaning with a single, water-based cleaner that was able to handle it all: Zep Tuff Green. After an initial trial in the tool cleaning room, the new product was introduced in the plant and was well received.

This change resulted in elimination of 900 pounds of VOCs, plus the associated smog-producing ozone. The new product is available in concentrated form, and can be dispensed from reusable squirt bottles, eliminating 1,600 aerosol cans from solid waste per year. Lakeland was able to reduce the number of cleaning products they must keep in inventory and expects to see a savings of $7,000 per year on cleaning products, without any reduction in their ability to clean their tooling.

Event Details

Thursday, May 25, 2017
5:00 - 5:45 p.m. Registration & reception
5:45 - 8:00 p.m. Dinner & program
8:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dessert & reception 

Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401

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Presenting Sponsors

Environmental Lay Group

Great River Energy

Reception sponsor

25th Anniversary Sponsors


Community Action

Critical Collaborator

Stoel Rives LLP

Emerging Leader


Energy and Climate

The Weidt Group

Natural Resources

Sustainable Business

Supporting Sponsors

Minnesota Power

partner SPONSORs

In-kind sponsors


CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

Consulate General of Canada

Rochester Public Utilities

Associate Sponsors

Bremer Bank
G & K Services
Nova Consulting
Smith Partners