The path from start-up to success story can be a challenging journey. These two Victorian innovators are taking the path less travelled, turning good ideas into profitable international businesses, and they’re not looking back!
Trash and Treasure in the 21st Century
Most reasonable people support recycling, yet the average citizen’s active commitment to the cause doesn’t extend much beyond separating paper, plastic, glass and organic refuse and trusting that some multinational conglomerate is actually recycling it and not just dumping it all upstream.
Victorian based company Close the Loop (CtL) first came to Anthill’s attention when we named it a Top 10 finalist in the inaugural Cool Company Awards back in 2006. The company had not only developed state-of-the-art materials separation processes and focused them on a lucrative niche (recycling imaging supplies), it demonstrated acumen by developing “eWood” – a by-product material made from recycled plastic that, as the name suggests, can be used in the manufacture of practical products such as park benches.
While recycling imaging waste is still CtL’s core business, eWood has gained great traction in recent years thanks largely to the practicality of the products it forms. It has been used in fencing, retaining walls, and even a crocodile farm in the Northern Territory, which, according to Steve Morriss, CtL founder and Executive Director (Technology), has completely fitted out all of its hatcheries with eWood because it doesn’t rot or warp in contact with water and sun. And as you can imagine, sitting on a park bench made from your discarded ink cartridges is an especially serene experience – you are resting on something that would have traditionally ended up as landfill (and taken hundreds of years to breakdown), and you’ve played a small role in the recovery and transformation process. eWood is the tangible end of recycling.
CtL is a “reverse-logistics” business, boasting over 100 employees and a collection infrastructure of some 65,000 sites around the country. The company now collects waste materials from across the Asia Pacific region and processes them in Australia. In 2008, CtL began exporting its Australian intellectual property and business model into America, where it has established a 120,000 square foot facility in Hebron, Kentucky. eWood is branded as “eLumber” in the US eWood wasn’t available, but eLumber is more recognisable to the American market anyway, observes Morriss with a chuckle. He estimates the US market to be approximately ten times larger than the Australian market.
The eWood process can easily be applied to other industries (automotive, food, agriculture, etc.). But for now, Morriss and his team are at full capacity and intend to stay true to their core business and exploit the niche that has made them world famous.
In this new era of global environmental awareness, habits – and business opportunities – are evolving rapidly. Earth Systems Technologies (EST) is leading the charge towards a cleaner, greener future.
The company was established in 2006 as a “cleantech” company to develop and commercialise technologies that promote the more efficient use and re-use of the earth’s resources. It is a “spin-out” of a successful environmental research and consulting company, Earth Systems.
A key objective of the company is to develop a groundwater management technology that uses natural minerals to form barriers or seals that control groundwater and subsurface gas movement. “It has to be long lasting and able to be formed at virtually any depth in both soft sediments and hard rock,” says EST Managing Director, Nigel Murphy. “The applications for such a technology are many, including controlling subsurface water and gas flow in the oil and gas sector and the mining sector. Of course, managing site pollution and contamination is another significant application.”
Through ten years of hard work the company has come far down the path in reaching this objective with its Neutral Barrier Technology (NBT). Two recent successful demonstrations of the technology have achieved many orders of magnitude in reduction of fluid flow. EST’s Technical Director and NBT creator, Dr Jeff Taylor, described the NBT process: “The basic principle of NBT formation is that a proprietary mixture of fluids and gases is strategically injected into the ground to form natural mineral precipitates where groundwater control is required. These seal the pathways in an efficient manner that normally permit groundwater migration.”
“Our competitive edge derives from our hard science-engineering background,” says Nigel Murphy. “We are exposed to people’s real problems and what they’re prepared to pay to fix those problems.” Currently, the company is looking for strategic partnerships that will enable Earth Systems Technologies to efficiently take NBT to market.
Despite their significant success, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and Murphy is acutely aware of the importance of working hard and smart. “I believe you create your own luck. Persistence is a key,” he says. “In the cleantech sector, the solution for tomorrow is not necessarily the right solution today – the timing has to be right. The good thing is that the market forces for clever environmental solutions are becoming more favourable every year as the value we place on protecting our environment grows.”
This column is proudly supported by the Victorian Government and the Australian Technology Showcase. It appeared in the April ’09 quarterly print edition of Anthill Magazine.
ATS TECHNOLOGIES IN VICTORIA
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