SECO SEALS Vs. Uncontrolled Carbon Emissions
Interview by Jo Borras with SECO SEALS’ president and senior engineer, Jim Scott
Last week, I sat down with SECO SEALS’ president and senior engineer, Jim Scott, to talk about the importance of proper, permanent, 100% leak-free seals in automotive and aerospace applications. It was a conversation which, if we’re being honest, I did not expect to turn into a high-tech, planet-saving thriller that challenged my assumptions about sustainability on Earth and the practicality of space travel … but that’s the great thing about being a part of CleanTechnica: I get to be wrong all the time!
Don’t get me wrong — with my background in and around the US military and motorsports, I do get it. At least, I thought I did. I knew that a properly sealed fuel system, for example, would keep highly toxic Q16 race gas from dripping onto my garage floor, where a pet or kid could get to it. I understood that a leak in the International Space Station (shown, above) could be a catastrophically bad thing, too. None of these things came as much of a surprise, but that’s not the big takeaway I got from Jim and SECO SEALS.
“People don’t understand the importance of sealing the gas and freon lines in their homes, for example,” said Scott, a few minutes into our conversation. “Every year, almost every home with a gas line has some nominal leak of chlorofluorocarbons (or, ‘CFCs’), from worn or faulty connectors or improperly sealed appliances. Added up over tens of millions of homes, the amount of gas just being leaked into the atmosphere is incredible.”
CFCs, for those of you not in the know, are dangerous chemicals that don’t just affect humans who breathe them in — they hurt every living thing on Earth by causing holes in the atmospheric layer of ozone that helps shield the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation … and that’s just the start of the potential havoc they wreak.
“Scientists first began to realize the potential for chlorine to interact destructively with ozone in the early 1970s … this danger is a direct consequence of the fact that CFCs (which contain carbon, fluorine and chlorine, are so inert,” writes Chris Deziel, in Sciencing. “Because they don’t react with anything in the lower atmosphere, CFC molecules eventually migrate to the upper atmosphere, where the sun’s radiation is intense enough to break them apart. This produces free chlorine — an element that is anything but inert.”
While CFCs were largely banned in the 1990s, they’re still out there in smaller amounts. What’s more, the natural gas commonly used to power cooking stoves, ovens, and water heaters also contains harmful “greenhouse gasses” that can accelerate climate change, but a properly sealed system can greatly reduce how many of these harmful chemicals can get into the air … and the less gas that leaks out, the less the homeowner has to pay for!
“We’ve had a number of people come back to us and tell us their gas bill has dropped significantly,” Scott offered. “Sometimes their bill is cut in half, and they didn’t have to change anything about the way they lived. Just a couple dollars’ worth of seals.”
WHY ISN’T THIS REQUIRED?
I can save hundreds of dollars and dramatically reduce harmful carbon emissions with a few dollars’ worth of SECO SEALS in my appliances? Where do I sign up, right!? But, perhaps a better question is: why isn’t this level of “100% leak-proof sealing” required? Like, by law?
“Some of it is education,” explains Scott. “We try to get the word out, but we’re engineers. The guys and gals here (I suggested that “guys” was gender neutral —Ed.), they do great work sealing up reusable rocket engines, fighter jets, racecars, and oxygen breathing systems for deep sea divers and submarines and oil platforms — everything that needs 100% certainty on sealing. But the aerospace community is a lot smaller than the construction or home improvement market.”
To help make things easier, SECO SEALS has developed a number of standardized seals that can be used by developers and housing authorities with minimal impact in their procurement process. “They just order our part instead of the plastic washer or whatever they’re ordering now,” explains Scott. “Now they’re using the same kind of precision crush gasket in a flare tube Fitting —the same kind we supply to major aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed, NASA, Bell, Northrop, and Raytheon, where our seals are standard.”
“Where do you start, though?” I ask him. “If I’m a homeowner, can I just call a handyman or contractor to come in and put these seals in my house?”
“Sure,” he says. “You might have to tell them where to buy the parts, but that’s it.”
“What about the big guys? Grocery stores and ‘big box’ stores that have massive HVAC systems and food freezers and all that?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” Scott says. “Those large systems have the biggest potential for leaks, and the biggest potential to reduce emissions and save money.”
ENOUGH SALES PITCH, WHERE’S THE SCI-FI?
We went on like this for a while, talking about all the different potential applications and savings for SECO SEALS’ ultra-effective sealing technology — but then talk turned to something that really got us both going: space flight, and how SECO SEALS was working with both NASA and private spaceflight firms to develop parts and tools that could actually be created in space.
“You don’t want to take a whole lot of tools and parts with you into space,” offered Scott. “For one thing, you don’t know what will break. What if you bring the wrong thing? What if one part breaks over and over, and you don’t bring enough of them, but you have three of a part you never need? That’s what the push for 3D printing and these machinable — let’s call them ‘DuPont or skunkworks-type’ materials do.”
Scott went on to describe next-gen materials that could absorbed heat and temperature-related warping (which, of course, could lead to leaks) like ceramics, but which could be machined like metals. “Or, at least, dense plastics,” he clarified.
“This is the kind of thing that can save lives,” Scott explains. “You need a part on Mars, for example, you can download the part from a SolidWorks library that has all our standard SECO SEALS in it already, to make things easier for engineers, and they can put this material in a lathe and machine the part they need right there. They don’t have to transport anything extra or manage an inventory or anything. Simple.”
That standardization and open access to SECO SEALS’ exceptional parts catalog — which has been in constant development since Jim Scott’s father started SECO SEALS in 1969 — is the key to that “real world” accessibility, making it easy for engineers in every field to quickly and effectively manage leaks in their projects.