The Science Cities Research Alliance has seen a number of spinout companies formed to commercialise successful Warwick research findings from the three associated SCRA technology programmes – Advanced Materials, Energy Futures and Translational Medicine. Recycling Technologies was formed to commercialise the development of the plastic recycling technique developed by Professors Jonathan Seville and Jan Baeyens who were originally based at the University of Birmingham, and then moved to the University of Warwick.
The project looked at the capability of pyrolysis to upgrade various waste materials including biomass, sludge and plastic into usable materials. Adrian Griffiths, Managing Director of Recycling Technologies, joined the enterprise in 2010 and has been advising the spinout as it achieves greater and greater business success.
“The idea for the company came about in the search for better recycling techniques,” says Adrian. “We all ‘consume’ so much plastic, most of which is of a type almost impossible to recycle. Typically only 12% of such waste is truly recycled, often the rest is put into landfill or simply burnt as fuel, but householders currently spend a great deal of effort separating out the rest of their plastic waste, believing it will be recycled. It is often simply too time consuming to separate out and clean the various types of plastic of their persistent labels or food contamination, as that requires significant, laborious human intervention. An additional problem is that often objects are made of more than one plastic that would require different treatments.”
Recycling Technologies, led by University of Warwick engineers, has come up with a simple process that can cope with every piece of plastic waste and can even break some polymers, such as polystyrene, back down to its original monomers.
“In light of the market interest in new recycling technologies, I was asked to consider a commercialisation strategy and business case for monetising this market interest,” continues Adrian. “Consequently, in February 2011, Recycling Technologies Ltd was incorporated. In 2012, in light of specific interest from the Alliance for Cartons and the Environment, seed funding was raised to accelerate the program.”
Recycling Technologies’ team was expanded, a sophisticated fast pyrolysis reactor - the MkII - was built in Swindon, and housed in Warwick’s Wellesbourne campus. and the process was established for turning mixed plastic waste into Plaxx™, Recycling Technologies’ own, valuable hydrocarbon product.
“Recycling Mixed Plastic Waste into Plaxx™, a clean hydrocarbon wax, is a breakthrough we are very proud of,” says Adrian. “It’s a low-sulphur material that can be used as a fuel, specifically a low sulphur marine fuel. In the future, this will mean that waste plastic will actually help to clean up the seas, rather than polluting them, as they do today.”
Alternatively, Plaxx™ can be used as a hydrocarbon product called “Slack Wax”. These waxes are traded globally and used as bitumen modifiers, paraffin wax, sealants and even in cosmetics.
Recycling Technologies is also working with polymer manufacturers since Plaxx™ can be used as a feedstock in the polymer production process. This “feedstock recycling” as Plastics Europe - a key supporter of RT - call it, is very important, as it would for the first time make plastic a sustainable material.
Producing Plaxx™ in a scalable, cost effective manner led to the designing of the RT7000 - another triumph for Recycling Technologies. The building of the first commercial version is underway.
Since the company started, Jonathan Seville moved to Surrey University from where, assisted by Prof. Rex Thorpe, he now advises Recycling Technologies on the scale up of the process and supervises an EngD programme that we sponsor in conjunction with EPSRC. The University of Birmingham’s Dr Gary Leeke is now aiding in the development of the chemical process via a PhD programme. These activities are augmented by a Knowledge Transfer Partnership undertaken with the University of the West of England, looking at the use of Plaxx™ in internal combustion engines and other suitable applications.
Success for Recycling Technologies is growing.
“We now have over 100 shareholders who have invested nearly £2 million,” says Adrian. “The vast majority of these are individual business angels and investors who share the passion for making our environment a more sustainable place, as well as commercialising these new technologies.
“We have learned many lessons throughout the course of the project – the experiences gained have been invaluable. The greatest lesson for me has been to witness what is achievable when universities, companies and experienced individuals work together in pursuit of a goal that benefits all.”