As Deborah Sacks from the Department for International Trade (DIT) outlined in her article for MRW last month, British businesses have significant expertise in waste management, recycling and resource recovery. She flagged Indonesia and Brazil as particularly interesting target markets because they recognise the benefits of good waste management and have funding available, as well as offering interested and capable local companies to partner with.
Waste2tricity is one UK business that hopes to tap into interest across south-east Asia. The developer has skills in identifying sites and available waste streams for feedstock. It also has particular interest in helping with the shift towards a hydrogen economy, where the gas is used as a fuel.
In the past couple of years, it has been working with Powerhouse Energy (PHE), becoming its commercial developer partner. PHE has developed technology called distributed modular gasification which is a pyrolysis/gasification system that converts 25 tonnes a day of feedstock from unrecyclable mixed waste plastic of any kind, with contamination and that is dirty and wet, into 58MWh of electricity.
John Hall, Waste2Tricity chairman and managing director, explains: “This is literally about getting rid of the last stuff that is either being landfilled or put into incinerators, but using it in a way that you can actually produce hydrogen – [and having these] dotted around a country rather than having to produce it in a big factory and sending it out by road.”
Subject to financing, the pair are now ready to build the UK’s first commercial plant in Thornton, West Yorkshire, with the hope that it will be in place by the end of the year. A plant can be manufactured off-site and installed fairly quickly in an area of less than an acre. Additional plant and space would be needed to add hydrogen capability.
Waste2Tricity was recently announced as one of six finalists chosen for Colab Indonesia’s ‘Disappearing Plastics Challenge’. The winning initiative will deliver a successful pilot by 2020 to eliminate single-use plastic waste and generate electricity in West Java.
Colab Indonesia is part of the Global Innovation Partners Programme, aiming to build collaborations between UK and Indonesian businesses to solve pressing socio-economic or environmental challenges. As a finalist, Waste2Tricity will explore collaboration with Indonesian challenge holder Pertamina ONWJ, which is the country’s state-owned oil and natural gas corporation based in Jakarta.
The issue of removing plastic waste from West Java is seen as imperative to ensure that fishing communities continue to thrive, as well as preserving its diverse marine life. Waste2Tricity plans to pay locals for plastic, which will create employment and power, and the value of the plastic will stop it being dumped.
Japan has also been identified as a country of opportunity, and Waste2Tricity has had a native Japanese speaker based in Tokyo for the past 20 months making good contacts with large companies. “Hydrogen has been identified as an important component of the Japanese future energy mix. Japan has a real problem with disposal because they do not have enough land to have holes in it,” Hall explains. “They pay very high gate fees, which gives you a commercial model.”
“Britain is recognised internationally for its quality, innovation and business ethics.”
Rob Jones, managing director, Magnapower
As to the broader export potential, he says: “We are at the early stages of arranging an export system. Whether that is going to be for the equipment or under a licence arrangement or joint ventures, it is too early to say. But we are out there, and people are interested to talk.”
Another UK technology on the cusp of take-off and already attracting interest from overseas is Heru. This is a small unit which uses waste material to power a boiler that heats water, thereby eliminating the need for waste collections and allowing users to generate their own energy and reduce bills. The units are currently undergoing trials in the UK.
Nik Spencer (pictured above, left), Heru founder and inventor, reveals that Sacks from the DIT paid a visit around 18 months ago. The unit was originally a domestic proposition but she suggested that, with the current legislation in place, it may be better to start with business users.
Spencer says that overseas firms started getting in touch after hearing about Heru in the media. His in discussions to licence the technology into Australia, New Zealand, North America, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Nordic countries.
Companies that have already established themselves in the UK and overseas include Siltbuster, which specialises in technologies for the remediation and construction sectors. Around 20% of its business is now overseas. Richard Coulton, Group founder and managing director, explains he is hoping to grow this to 50% in the next five years.
“We’ve never actively sought this international business. Initially, it came about through UK customers and contractors who liked our systems. When they were working on contracts overseas, they wanted to take our equipment with them. It snowballed from there.
“After this we were approached by an Australian distributor who we’ve been working with for more than 10 years. Today we are active in 34 countries, with our systems being used on projects such as the construction of the Doha Metro in Qatar, the Grand Paris Express and the Gothenburg Metro in Sweden.”
Coulton does not think that being a British company makes much difference: “It’s all about having the right product and business model. It is how we can cater for and service the markets we are in that really matters.”
He sees Europe is a key market, and growth is also coming from Canada and possibly the rest of north America. “The big driver is environmental awareness. We are doing well in places where firms want to manage better the environmental risks of their activity.”
Coulton adds that Siltbuster is in a strong position when it comes to local competition overseas because it has “effective, innovative, patented, industry-focused products which others just can’t offer”. These have been tailored for specific markets and developed at its centre of excellence in Monmouth.
Rob Jones, managing director of magnetic separation specialist Magnapower, has been working with businesses and agents overseas for more than 10 years, and has a 50/50 split of UK and non-UK business. “We can often provide a price advantage in some markets, but our greatest advantage is our approach to providing an accurately selected solution to individual metal separation requirements,” he says.
Making contact with overseas clients has been a combination of “direct contact from us to them and them to us. Internet marketing also makes this easier for us and our customers”.
He believes that being a British company “definitely” puts it in greater stead: “Britain is recognised internationally for its quality, innovation and business ethics.”
Adam Moore, sales manager at equipment manufacturer Ken Mills, agrees that being British, alongside the fact that his company designs and builds its equipment in-house, are selling points. Figures vary but 30-40% of its sales are now outside the UK.
The company started selling to Europe in the late 1980s. Its textiles, cotton and wool baling equipment proved popular because its machine was designed to make a more compact textile bale, which was nicknamed the ‘London bale’.
“From this, we have gone from strength to strength and sell equipment around the globe,” says Moore. He explains that a lot of its equipment is “quite unique to us”, and, because it is tried and tested, people have trust in it: “We get great repeat business and recommendation through our market connections.”
Advetec, which specialises in the treatment of effluent and waste, has been working with organisations overseas only for about five years, but already has 70% of its business there. It found that coverage in international magazines about the technology helped it to gain a footing in overseas markets at a time of demand for solid mixed waste digester solutions.
In addition, chief executive Craig Shaw worked alongside DIT (previously UKTI) for many years and was involved in a trade mission to the UAE in 2014, which proved fruitful. It has progressed in the US in a similar way.
Sales manager Chris Hughes explains that the company has been working particularly with food businesses in the Middle East, and leisure parks and shopping malls in the US. He foresees “massive potential” in north America, driven in particular by new regulations restricting what can go into landfill.
He agrees that being British has stood the company in good stead, “because our customers have found that UK quality of engineering is higher and we believe the UK is a better base for engineering quality”. Like others, the uniqueness of Advetec’s technology is a key selling point: “Nowhere else supplies the blend of bugs and nutrients required for the exothermic digestion process.”