UKTI Businesses and Advice Conference comes to Manchester
by Ethar Alali — at Innovate 2016, Manchester Central, 3rd Nov 2016
The open space of the old station and G-Mex in Manchester was expanded for the 2-day UKTI Innovate 2016 conference taking place this week. With exhibitors from several of the UK’s most innovative companies across all sectors made an appearance and there was no shortage of new ideas for us to peruse.
Alright, aar Kid!
The presentation for best booth absolutely has to go to our very own MadLab. Rachel, Claire (@GirlGeekUp) and the MadLab team got themselves an amazing booth! Built entirely the day before the conference by the fair hands and generous heart of specialist Liverpool immersive show producers The Kazimier (@TheKazimier).
I mean look at it! It captures the essence of MadLab perfectly! It’s amazing!! :-)
The team showcased their interactive music device activities for students with learning disabilities, an electric harp, an infra-red punch-card reader, their laser cutters (and laser cut toys built on the floor — I’m kicking myself for not taking along boxes I needed doing) and more!
Although I don’t envy the team’s job taking it down, Madlab really did us in the tech community proud with this, which was consistently one of the most visited stands at the expo. Amazing job folks, well done!
My winner of Best Invention
Headliner: Recycling Technologies, an unexpected place to Change the World
Every conference, there is a company that makes such an impression I don’t forget them in a hurry. It’s rare for sales sparkle to be that memorable and this continued that theme with Recycling Technologies.
Tucked away on the right of the expo, facing another stand, making it easy to miss, was Recycling Technologies. This startup’s offering originates as a spin-off from an invention of the University of Warwick.
Recycling Technologies market themselves as offering “sustainability as a service”. A bold claim, but as I discovered talking to the chaps, not only is it not all that brash, it totally underplays what I can only describe as having potentially world changing implications.
Hussain stepped out of the narrow, unassuming booth corridor, insulted my laptop bag, which was a good enough ice breaker and introduced me to their boxes of shredded plastic and bottles containing an olive green-brown substance. The bottles appeared to contain the sort of contents primary school children would balk or laugh at. Yet, they demonstrate that Recycling Technologies developed a way to chemically recycle plastics, turning them into, wait for it, synthetic crude oil!
Better still, whilst maintaining the same properties as crude oil, that “oil”, the green substance in the bottles, is a new dense wax they call Plaxx, which is, again, wait for the bombshell, solid at room temperature! So no more spills or oil slicks during transportation. This eradicates the risk of disasters at sea because of course, it’s on land already and the shipping, refining and piping costs are as good as non-existent, and even if it’s exported, or transported, it is less risky! This also means there are no large, heavy industry startup costs.
Now, if you remember anything about chemical cracking and the processes involved in both the production and recycling of hydrocarbon derivatives, including plastics, you’ll know that a lot of oil derivatives are burnt or unreclaimable. 3% of all crude oil is turned into plastic substrates which can’t always be recycled and are polluting the oceans at an extraordinary rate.
Regular “mechanical” recycling processes turn plastics into beads or other “recyclates” which are then turned into whatever sheeting you need. It is highly inefficient, only reclaiming around 40% of the plastic. Also, recycled plastics degrade in quality over time, like copying a copy, eventually it’s unusable and has to be disposed of anyway.
In almost complete contrast, Plaxx can be reused time and time again. With 75% efficiency, nearly double that of regular, mechanical plastic reprocessing, this has the potential to recycle the majority of the full 275,000 tonnes of plastic the UK consumes every single year and recycle more of it.
Recycling Technologies Scale-up Right
I spent a while speaking to Hussain, the team have done everything right! They built an initial prototype capable of producing 1kg per hour, on the space of a keyboard and a half. They slowly built it up through an exponential up-scale, ironing out scaling problems as they appeared and can now produce 100kg of Plaxx per hour.
Recycling Technologies found council test sites to take on their product. Those councils are now actively using it to recycle plastics.
Recycling Technologies are also developing a version of their system to produce 1,000kg per hour, reaching their funding target just yesterday.
Just think about that for a second. Let’s crunch some numbers:
- A barrel of oil is 42 gallons and one tonne occupies the volume of approximately 6.5 barrels. So Recycling Technologies are currently able to provide the equivalent of 0.65 barrels of oil an hour and will be able to produce 6.5 barrels every hour when the new system is up and running. The North Sea produces significantly more than this, granted. At up to 200,000 barrels per day, the one plant is dwarfed. However, this is one site and saves the combines cost of landfill, fines, heavy investment reprocessing etc.
- The UK produces around 275,000 tonnes of plastic every year. At 75% efficiency, this means that there is 206,250 tonnes of Plaxx to be made. At today’s price of $44.75 per Barrel, this “saves” $60 million which, again, at today’s exchange rate of $1.25:£1 means a saving of £48 million!
- The cost of oil freight is not cheap! This not only reduces the cost of transport, it also…
- Has the potential to create another revenue stream for councils and the companies with contracts to dispose of the waste.
- Everyone uses plastics. The total worldwide consumption is over 400 million tonnes of plastics every year. It’s also recurring revenue. Since the world keeps using that amount and more every year! With the ability to re-recycle the plastics and yield so much from them, not only is the product good for earth’s sustainability, it is a great business model!
Hussain told me two pieces of information. The first is that they literally reached their funding target yesterday, when one investor placed a single investment for tens of thousands of pounds to close it off not long after seeing them. Congratulations just for that. The investor obviously saw the potential in this. However, there is one more crucial benefit and they’re doing this in the form of a collaborative experiment.
Recycling Technologies are working with two other partners to assess a zero waste process.
Two other providers are dealing with two other outlets for particular types of plastics. Plaxx will be made out of the remaining plastic types. The combination of all 3 aims to complete the missing efficiency and recycling numbers and crucially, each of those complements the offering of the others. A perfect demonstration of how collaboration is better for everyone involved. Better for Recycling Technologies, better for the other two providers, better for councils and clients and better for the planet. It’s the most comprehensive win-win I’ve come across in a very long time.
As you can tell, I was very very impressed! This particular service, hidden away from public view, was easily the most impressive offering at the show. Thinking about how plastics are used, this is a revolutionary technology that is able to produce commercially viable products at a relatively quick rate. I’m personally, very excited about it! I wish the company the very best of luck!
There were many other notable mentions at the conference. Some of which we’re looking forward to talking to in the next few weeks. If you had a favourite, let us know.
Innovate 2016 was another boon for Manchester. The city that led to the Industrial Revolution is taking centre stage at innovation conferences, which stands to reason after winning the IoT demonstrator project last year.
Uniquely, Innovate 2016 had a number of support services for SME’s and exporters. This is an excellent opportunity for SME’s to learn more about funding sources, funding application, exporting, marketing, taxation, customs and excise and more! What was also interesting was the level of funding that businesses got from the EU. Orders of magnitude more than the UK government provide. There was definitely some insecurity about the future given the Brexit vote.
Despite this, it’s good to see so many exciting things happening.
Thanks to all those folk who took the time to explain their products to us. I wish all companies the very best for the coming year. I want to hear the stories next time.
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Visit Madlab’s website to find out more about Manchester’s digital laboratory. If you’re interested in finding out more about Recycling Technologies, you can get in contact with them at email@example.com.