Designing sustainable solutions to transform waste wood into the fuels and materials of a cleaner tomorrow.
As a part of the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design course (IE&D)of RCA together with Imperial College Business School MBA programme, I worked with Ella Walding to evolve our service design practice in a different context. The purpose was to demonstrate its value and use in an entrepreneurial environment.
In this context, we helped to create the startup case of "Chrysalis Technologies", a business being developed by two Imperial College chemical engineer researchers, who had previously created a technology named BioFlex.
BioFlex is a process that addresses the need for utilising all grades of wood waste in a way that is cost-effective and environmentally sustainable. It breaks down wood waste into different components which will be used to create biogas. The end goal of the service design team is to help the two chemical engineers secure funding and support them in being accepted onto development programs.
“Contaminated wood waste not only costs to sit in landfill but damages the environment... It would be wonderful to find a way to make use of it”
BioFlex is a process which breaks down wood waste into different components which we will use to create biogas. The chemical engineers have spent over 8 years developing a chemical process for the conversion of wood into biofuels which has resulted in 3 patents. The team has also won £10,000 prize money from Althea Imperial to help move towards the end goal.
The waste wood is processed in a solvent system that enables the separation of different streams which can individually be used for the production of fuels and materials. The metals are separated out with a recovery of 99%. The materials and fuels produced hold a value of around £220 per tonne of wood which, together with the cost savings from disposal, add up to over £300 of unlocked value per tonne of wood.
Over the course of the project, the team has carried out extensive market research and made important contacts with the waste and timber industry. The team has also spoken to biogas plants, bio gas buyers, and gas network companies. The research suggested that the focus should be on making use of contaminated wood waste to produce biogas.
The team needed to decide firstly, what product would be used from upstream. The decision was to use contaminated wood waste. The key reasons for this were:
- There are fewer competitors able to convert contaminated wood waste into useful products and this is a unique selling point for this technology;
- Contaminated wood waste is cheap as currently it is expensive to landfill;
- Create a solution for a waste disposal problem that will keep our environment clean and will be part of a zero waste future.
Secondly, the team needed to decide what to produce from the woodwaste. The team decided to produce biogas for utility companies, biogas buyers who supply the National Grid or the National Grid directly. The key reasons for this were:
- It is easy to sell it because there is a growing market and there is a very high demand for biogas;
- If you sell it to a gas producer you have a long term contract for a particular area;
- Offers a way of producing biofuels at a lower cost than current technologies;
- Uses material that is not being competed for.
The business model consists of carrying out research and process development, with the eventual aim of selling licences in 5 years time. However in the short term it will be necessary to find an industrial partner who would be willing to help fund a demonstration plant. Imperial students are currently looking for one or more potential backers/industrial partners to help us set up a pilot demonstration plant and identify potential buyers.
Date: December 2015 - July 2016
Context: IE&D Programme - Service Design MA Royal College of Art in collaboration with Imperial College.
Members: Developed in collaboration with Ella Walding, Florence Gschwend and Agi Brandt-Talbot
Extent of the project: 6 months, part-time