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US firm developing plans to turn household waste into sugar on Teesside

By Kelley Price | Gazette Live |August 27, 2015

A sweet £1m project to turn household waste into sugar could prove a game-changer in global energy consumption – and it’s being developed here on Teesside.

Technology by Fiberight Ltd could remove the need for fossil fuels in the manufacturing of everyday products from plastic to road fuel, by turning rubbish that can’t be recycled into cellulose.

Industrial biotechnology – using plants to make useful products on an industrial scale – is big business, and Wilton-based Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) helps companies become commercially viable.

Fiberight Ltd’s waste-to-sugar venture is currently “one of the closest-to-market industrial biotechnology projects in the UK” – and CPI is helping the US company fine-tune the process.

CPI’s Dan Noakes said: “We have two bins, one for recycling and the other for everything else. If tin cans and plastic bottles end up in landfill, they’re lost.

“This process recovers all of those, and carries out the separation for you.

“Food matter, paper and card, biomass is recovered separately and turned to sugar.

“We have the potential then to make any chemical we want using biotechnology.”

For the next 12 months, a seven-strong consortium led by Fiberight will work with scientists at CPI’s National Industrial Biotech Facility, a centre of excellence set up to support UK SMEs.

The £1m project has been made possible by a significant contribution from Innovate UK. The company eventually wants to roll out a string of UK plants, including on Teesside, each with the capacity to take around 400,000 peoples’ household waste in a year – and create hundreds of jobs.

“The technology and process is unique, other big engineering firms are trying to achieve the same thing,” said Mr Noakes.

“It’s a circular economy – the waste then becomes the feedstock for manufacturing – meaning it replaces oil.”

The process would also tackle the UK’s waste mountain, by diverting the rubbish in our wheelie bins from landfill.

And any plants built for this process would be green, “capital efficient” and run off their own energy. No incineration of waste would also mean they can be built in cities.

“They also employ lots of people,” adds Dan. “It’s a win-win.”

The cost of a plant is more than competitive compared to that of traditional methods including incineration, and each would create 70 jobs.

Nick Thompson, Fiberight’s CEO said: “This project will enable Fiberight’s route to commercialisation in the UK and will overcome the few remaining technical challenges. We intend to build on this project with CPI and validate the Fiberight process at scale.”

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