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Hand sanitizer makes scents to Purdue alum

John Whittington, BS ’96, is always looking for the next big thing. An entrepreneur at heart, Whittington operated a large trucking company with his father, owned and operated an RV park in Florida, managed a fleet of hazardous waste trucks in Ohio and been a part of a successful NASCAR team.

In 2004, he bought an abandoned lumberyard in Morristown, Ind, and turned it into a successful biodiesel fuel-manufacturing site.

 In less than two years, Whittington took Integrity Biofuels from idea to full production, producing biodiesel fuel from soybean oil that was being crushed at the Bunge plant located next door and distributing it at truck stops throughout central Indiana.    

Operating at full capacity, the plant produced up to 15,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel a day.

John Whittington is making hand sanitizer in every size from 2 oz. bottles all the way up to the 270-gallon containers that fill up his Morristown, Ind. plant. John Whittington is making hand sanitizer in every size from 2 oz. bottles all the way up to the 270-gallon containers that fill up his Morristown, Ind. plant.

“At the time, that was a pretty big plant,” said Whittington. “We were producing about five million gallons of fuel a year.”

 But an unstable market and larger, more efficient competitors like Louis Dreyfus’ Claypool, Ind., plant (88-million gallons per year) made producing biodiesel fuels a dicey proposition.

“Without the tax credits we thought we were going to get, producing biodiesel was not a profitable venture,” Whittington said.

He began looking for a product his plant could manufacture more efficiently. It turned out the next big thing was a little thing, scented hand sanitizer in two-oz. bottles that Whittington passes out like he was Willie Wonka passing out chocolate bars.

“We came into 2020 looking for any other use to utilize our storage tanks. We knew we had the tanks and the talent,” Whittington said. “The question remained, what else could we do?”

He filled his tanks with liquid nitrogen, blended it with water and sold the fertilizer to farmers. He partnered with a pair of Purdue research projects, doing the scale up work for a soy-based concrete sealer and a cold climate biodiesel project, both funded by the Indiana Soybean Alliance.  

Whittington and plant manager Guy Herrell didn’t stop there.  

“Nothing was off the table,” Herrell said. “We talked about inks, paints, glues, even some foodstuffs.”

 And, eventually, hand sanitizer.

sanitizer bottles Integrity Biofuels currently makes hand sanitizer in three different scents, lemon fresh, pumpkin spice and creamy coconut, but Whittington hints additional holiday scents may be available soon.

Whittington had a 20,000-gallon underground tank that had stored the methanol used to make biofuels. His team cleaned out the tank and filled it with ethanol, a key ingredient of hand sanitizer.

“Because of COVID-19, hand sanitizer is going to be around for a while. The big manufacturers are going to ramp up and make it tough for little guys like us. We just want to find our niche in the marketplace.”

In May, Whittington looked around for an ethanol that didn’t smell like rotting garbage. Even some of the better smelling ethanol can smell like tequila.

“We looked at a lot of different ethanols before we found one that didn’t smell bad.” Whittington then hooked up with a company in Ohio that sold fragrances used to make candles and soaps.

Production started in June. By July, Integrity Biodiesel was ready with its first commercial product. It now produces a few 5,400-gallon truckloads of hand sanitizer a week.  

“We were able to do this with the same equipment that we used to produce biodiesel,” Whittington said. “That was the slick thing. But if we need to shift gears again, we can do that. We’ll see if this can work, if we can find our niche in this big marketplace.”

Whittington currently produces hand sanitizer in creamy coconut, lemon fresh and, his personal favorite, pumpkin spice. Other seasonal scents are in the works. 

“We’re working on a clean, fresh smell for spring and a nice smell for Christmas, maybe pine, a sugar cookie, fudge, or hot cocoa. We’ll make some small bottles and see what people think.”

            With a small company of five employees, each serves as individual research and development agents, sharing the sanitizer with family and friends in exchange for critiques of the aromas.

            “I have given away a lot of hand sanitizer, probably more than I should,” Whittington admits. “But I enjoy giving it away. If there is a need somewhere, I’ll give it to them.”

Whittington has donated his hand sanitizer to non-profits, including schools, parks and shelters.

“It’s rewarding to give back. It’s not only something I can do, it’s something I enjoy doing. As a company, it’s something we should be doing,” says Whittington.

 “Making something that helps people has definitely been a rewarding process,” Whittington said. ”We had challenges in converting the plant from biodiesel to hand sanitizer. I had never made it before, but that didn’t scare me. I had never made biodiesel before either. You do the homework, you hire the right people and you do the research. In the end, I feel like we can do it as good as anybody, if not better.”

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