Instead of toilets and sinks being discarded post-production and old glass all ending up in landfill, the company’s founders Dr Alasdair Bremner and Professor David Binns have now developed a patented process that recycles them into a new material, SilicaStone.
The innovation’s breakthrough has been to create the technology from the two different industries. The result is a sustainable composite that, because it has no resins or glues, is recyclable.
Currently made using a kiln-heated process, SilicaStone can be custom coloured, variously textured, used inside and out and is 100 per cent fire, frost and UV-ray proof.
That adaptability and the product’s variety of beautiful, natural-looking surfaces have fired the imaginations of architects and Alusid’s distributor Panaz.
This supplies coverings to the hospitality, corporate and healthcare sectors and has put SilicaStone on the walls of restaurant chain Nando’s HQ and in hotel group Four Seasons’ Coya restaurants.
Our next challenge is about economies of scale so we are truly competitive and affordable.
A decade in the making, Preston-based Alusid is a spin-off from the University of Central Lancashire, which has a stake, along with academics Bremner and Binns and commercialisation partner Frontier IP Group.
An initial £198,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council recognised the new business as a mould-breaker, one capable of bringing aesthetic, commercial and sustainable goals together in products.
“Usefulness is critical but so are good looks,” says Bremner. “Our next challenge is about economies of scale so we are truly competitive and affordable.”
Although currently employing five and with a turnover of £38,000, the company has a 100-project pipeline and stands on the brink of the big time.
“Market demand is also for larger surfaces now which require different production techniques and equipment,” explains Bremner.
Alusid company founders Dr Alasdair Bremner and Professor David Binns
That will mean a new factory and switching from batch to continuous flow production, a heat-based roller process, employed among others in the food industry to make the likes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
This type of manufacturing could lead to energy savings of 25 per cent, cut production times from 10 hours to 45 minutes and increase output from 4,000 square metres of tiles a year to 30,000 a month.
Bremner envisages a further raise of £12million-plus will be needed for that possibly through an IPO.
Its investor, AIM-listed Frontier IP, is a specialist in commercialising intellectual property and bringing in relevant partners at an early stage so any technology meets real world needs. It continues to play a critical role in Alusid’s success.
Alusid have put SilicaStone on the walls of restaurant chain Nando’s HQ
Alusid have developed a patented process that turns toilets and sinks into SilicaStone
“Frontier has enabled us to make the most of our innovation,” says Bremner. “They’ve helped with strategy and with negotiating supply contracts and partnerships, as stock consistency is a worry for recyclers, and finding Sacmi, an Italian manufacturer of tile making equipment, that we need for our factory.
“More is done faster with Frontier, and they have great connections, for example in Cambridge, that they share.”
Data about the amounts of ceramic waste in the UK or elsewhere and what is happening is in surprisingly short supply. But with ultimately finite resources, growing waste piles and increasing disposal costs, the issue won’t remain under the radar.
Looking ahead international partnerships are another likely model Bremner believes could work for the business. “After all the kind of waste we take exists in most countries,” he says.
During Alusid’s progress he has seen green technologies receive ever warmer welcomes, but holds no illusions either about what drives customers’ choices: “However worthy a product may be, in our markets you also need the looks and good prices to be a winner.”
Alusid turn ceramics and glass waste into stylish tiles
Workers in the Alusid factory
FRONTIER IP: smart services for spin-outs
Frontier IP Group, the investor helping Alusid go global, takes equity stakes in spin-out companies in return for providing a range of services, rather than for cash investment. These include hands-on support with technology and business development, such as help in fund raising and finding industry partners.
An important part of the way Frontier IP works is bringing in relevant industry partners at an early stage. This ensures technology delivers for customers and can be scaled-up for volume production before large sums of money are committed.
Frontier IP currently has 11 companies in its core portfolio and relationships with the University of Plymouth, the University of Cambridge and universities in Portugal.