With interests spanning water, energy, land management and food production, the Environmental Sustainability KTN is meeting the challenges of the environment
UK plc currently faces a range of environmental challenges such as resource depletion, rapid climate change and loss of biodiversity, each of which poses societal problems and that together amount to what William Makepeace Thackeray described in the 1840s as a ?perfect storm?. However, we Brits are a resourceful lot, and over the last few centuries have demonstrated that we can often invent ways out of the worst consequences of such severe pressures. But sometimes a bit of leverage is needed to get past the early hurdles, and to start the process.
The Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network (ESKTN) is one of a suite of Knowledge Transfer Networks established by the UK government?s Technology Strategy Board to catalyse this innovation process in environmental sustainability. They link up businesses with environmental sustainability technology problems, universities and other organisations with research and development capacity, and sources of finance in the public or private sectors. With interests spanning the water, energy, land management and food production, and resource efficiency and waste management sectors, the range is wide, but all developments are underpinned by an awareness of the requirements of environmental sustainability and a low-carbon economy.
A dedicated team of science and technology experts based in the University of Oxford and C-Tech Innovation in Chester, directed by Professor Carolyn Roberts who is a water resources specialist, work to bring about the ?marriages?. They evaluate the marketplace to identify gaps where developments in environmental sustainability are most needed, where new technologies are emerging, and where interventions can bring about the most significant gains. They then provide creative space in which environmentally sound but commercially viable ideas can be progressed through partnerships.
Many of the most productive ventures in environmental sustainability involve more than one company working on a specific project, together with appropriately skilled university researchers. A cluster of small companies, for example, can greatly enhance their capabilities through this mechanism. Sometimes the most effective support is just a helping hand through the complex set of acronyms and funding sources. From time to time dedicated research students of environmental sustainability are brought into the mixture alongside more experienced research staff, providing fresh capacity and enthusiasm. Increasingly the partnerships are international, drawing British companies together with overseas companies, utilising funding sources from Europe and beyond.
Initially established almost a decade ago, but built into a stronger player in September 2009 by merging two previous Knowledge Transfer Networks, the ESKTN has an outstanding record of getting new and innovative products, processes and systems from initial idea to market. It is a rapidly growing organisation with over 7,000 individual members in the private, public, regulatory and voluntary sectors. The management steer comes from a powerful board, including commercial leaders from major companies such as Viridor, Wates Construction, Heineken, Arup and SITA. Members receive regular market intelligence, invitations to participate in emerging partnerships, access to publications and analyses about environmental sustainability, opportunities to provide input to policy development in the UK and Europe, partnership calls for specific programmes, and much more.
The ESKTN has a remit to advise specific Westminster departments such as Business, Innovation and Skills, DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the UK Research Councils on policy developments on environmental sustainability that are necessary to maintain or facilitate the climate of innovation, drawing on the experience of their members, and representing their views more powerfully than they could as individuals. They also liaise with and support other organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Regional Development Agencies, and a range of professional bodies, to identify gaps, establish connections and find solutions for environmental sustainability.
Over the last few years, the ESKTN has been involved in hundreds of developments, and has prompted millions of pounds of investment and new commercial enterprises, some of which are described on the website at www.esktn.org.uk. For example, spinout company Novacem developed a green cement system that will help combat climate change by locking atmospheric CO2 into construction materials. Based on magnesium oxide and special mineral additives, there is now potential to develop a range of ?carbon negative? construction products. They won a prestigious Rushlight Award in 2008.
New company Carbon8 progressively developed a rapid and cost-effective, patented process called Accelerated Carbonation Technology (ACT) for the treatment of industrial wastes and contaminated soils, facilitating recycling and re-use. The technology uses locally sourced waste CO2 emissions and creates a marketable product. Carbon8 has won awards including a influential Shell Springboard award in 2008, Kent Innovation Challenge Winners? award in 2007, and Institute of Chemical Engineering Chemical Technology Award in 2006.
Fuel for a future that has environmental sustainability is an urgent need. Biowaste2energy's technology combines a two-stage fermentation process with patented novel membrane-separation technology, yielding economically viable fuel-cell grade hydrogen from recycled organic wastes. The bioprocess combines dark fermentation and photo-fermentation in an artificial symbiosis, with two specialised cultures performing opposite but mutually supportive bioconversions. This removes the organic products, which would otherwise accumulate and inhibit hydrogen production, and the effluent is clean.
Not all the new processes are chemically driven. HIMAG Solutions has secured funding for development of a new generation of high-performance planar transformers that are smaller, lighter and more efficient than conventional wire-wound transformers. The ESKTN brokered an initial relationship with Business Link, and funding from the South West Regional Development Agency.
Leeds University, supported by Cristal Global and EPSRC, is fine-tuning a patented process to extract higher yields of titanium dioxide and refine it to over 99% purity. They also discovered how to recover significant quantities of rare-earth oxides (Neodymium, Cerium and Lanthanum), from the by-products, delivering environmental double benefits. Currently China dominates the supply of these elements, vital for ?high-tech? applications.
Membership of the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network is free to individuals, and details are available at www.esktn.org.uk.
Added the 26 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1