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£85m project back on track

Wednesday 7 November 2012 5:00

The protracted development of an £85m green technology plant which will employ 70 people on Teesside is finally close to securing the funding it needs to get started.

Dear Sir, reads one of the scores of emails Anthony Carter receives from India on a monthly basis.

We operate a scrap tyre plant and want to convert raw carbon black to Pyreco carbon black using your machines. Please let us know your price.

Frustratingly for Carter, the potential leads that have continually flowed into his inbox for several months have not immediately been chased up.

Partly this is down to what Carter calls the “insanity of the banking sector” and sluggishness among governmental and EU decision makers in backing green solutions.

But, with the group’s lengthy struggle for finance close to resolution, its ten-strong team aim to shortly go ahead and develop the £85m processing plant at the leased site in Wilton it has been waiting to start since 2009.

In the longer term, the company believes it can gain the momentum to build a further 10 plants across Europe – then there are the opportunities of the Asia Pacific market.

PYReco is built around a system that processes old tyres and other hydrocarbon rubbers into a particularly eco-friendly, high grade  version of carbon black, a substance used in numerous industrial and manufacturing processes found in everything from paint and printing ink to boot polish and spectacles.

It simple terms, it is used as a pigment and reinforcement in rubber and plastic the world over.

Carter reckons the PYReco system could divert 2.5 million tonnes of waste per annum out of UK landfills and, if his international ambitions are realised, reverse the destruction of ecosystems throughout the world where tyre mountains have scarred forest and jungle land.

Meanwhile, a network of 10 plants on the Continent could produce in excess of 500,000 tonnes pa of PYReco’s Zero Waste brand of PZP carbon black.

In addition, one of the by-products is a refined oil closely related to diesel fuel. “What we are looking at initially is the equivalent of finding a pretty big oil field in the lay-bys and highways of the UK,” he says.

“The importance of coming to the North East is precisely because the types of materials we will be producing are the materials that manufacturers and chemical industry firms will be looking to use. There’s no question in my mind that the North East can be the hub of green technology for the UK and a benchmark for best practice”.

“We know, from the research we have been doing for several years, as well as customer trials, that the material we are producing is of a higher quality than anything previously seen, which I find tremendously motivating.”

The kitting out process should shortly get underway at Wilton, some 18 years after Carter first began researching tyre pyrolysis and three years after his system was snubbed by the EU’s green agenda setters.

“When I wanted to talk to the EU about the proper recycling of tyres in 2009 I had an email from them basically saying ‘please don’t bother us until 2012, the problem can’t be solved’. That’s interesting, I thought, I’ve been working on this for 15 years and you’re wrong.”

And, in his experience, the British government has been no less obstructive.

“At the highest echelons of authority we are risk averse. We do not understand risk when it comes supporting innovation. The manner in which support is offered is sufficiently complex that nine out of ten businesses don’t bother to take it and then carry on down their own path unassisted.

“Our company was founded by me and two colleagues in 2005 and we took a huge risk. We are still taking substantial risks but we’re happy to be doing it because this opportunity marries our own personal philosophical objectives with the possibility of creating a highly profitable business.

“We’re producing high quality renewable materials from existing waste that the vast majority of the world regards as a nuisance,” he adds.

While the 70 jobs forecasted in year one, may not be achieved until the end of 2013, Carter has no doubt that it is not far off.

What he finds even more exciting is that once the first plant is built, expansion will follow swiftly and the North East will have a genuine “sunrise” green technology around which to build its ambitions of becoming a renewable technology hub.