Enval was created at the end of 2006, spun out of Cambridge University with the support of a seed round of investment from business angels.
This investment was used to build its first pilot plant in Cambridge in 2007 and in 2009 it moved the pilot plant to Luton, in a more industrial-like setting. By 2010, it had proved that the technology worked and showed it to more investors.
“That is when we really needed to think about how we were going to commercialise this thing,” Carlos Ludlow-Palafox, Enval’s managing director and chief technology officer, explains.
Enval’s initial vision was that it would own and operate its plants. But it later realised that it was better suited to being a turnkey solution provider because its expertise was in chemical engineering rather than waste handling.
“In all credit to my investors, they were very open minded about what we thought up,” he adds.
Ludlow-Palafox explains that the plan was to sell the technology to the waste handling companies: “It became fairly clear fairly quickly that no-one was going to buy one of these plants from us if we didn’t show them one operating at the right scale.
“Why? Because, without disrespect, the fact is that waste handling companies are not necessarily the most technologically forward-looking companies in the world. That is starting to change, but the very large waste handlers are enormous and they still have no R&D departments. Companies of any other sector of that size would have a lot of people and a lot of resources concentrated on R&D.”
At around the same time, Ludlow-Palafox says that other companies “who have a vested interest in us being successful” started making approaches to see how they could help. These were the businesses that had labels on the front of such packaging – the fast-moving consumer goods and brands.
“So we formed what is called the Enval consortium, which eventually Nestlé, Mondelez and Kraft supported, and they paid for half of that plant, more or less. Why? As part of their corporate social responsibility, nothing else,” he explains.
“They didn’t buy equity in Enval and they didn’t buy equity in the machine. It was to demonstrate that they are committed to doing something about the recyclability of their products. And so we embarked on building our first commercial plant.”
Enval: A History