While research is intended to identify solutions to problems, laboratory-based research can also contribute to them, in particular to the current sustainability challenge. Annually some 5.5 million tonnes of single-use plastic is produced by life sciences research laboratories alone. This is equivalent to 67 cruise ships and all of it goes into landfills, is burned, or is shipped overseas. This is because often it is contaminated and there is no way to decontaminate it and make it safe for recycling.
The process, which has been developed according to the standards of the NHS and the health and safety protocols from different research institutes, has been non-commercially beta-tested at the University of Bath. 23 researchers were involved in 5 laboratories over a 4+ month period and they produced 155 kg of contaminated waste which was processed using 14 times less energy and 10 times less CO2 emissions. The team is now aiming to bring the concept to market and has been assisted with this by three student interns who have helped with market research, web development, marketing design, etc. Having received a £15,000 Foulathi Innovation Award3 in September 2020, it is now aiming to raise £250,000 via the UK’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme4.
Founded in January 2020, LabCycle Ltd is a spinout venture of the University of Surrey. It has been launched specifically to address this problem and is the first company on the market to create a circular economy for single-use plastic waste from Safety Level 1 and 2 Laboratories. Based in the University’s highly successful Research Park, and supported by the SETsquared partnership1, its Chief Executive Officer is Colin Francis, a Biomedical Sciences graduate with a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management from the University’s Business School. Its Chief Operating Officer is Minal Patel a Material Science and Engineering graduate who is employed at the National Physical Laboratory and is a Doctoral candidate at the University, researching Micro and Nanomaterials. The third member of the founding team is the venture’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr Jinghui (Helen) Liang whose Doctorate from SETsquared partner, the University of Bath, is in Sustainable Chemical Technologies. Together the team’s mission is to build the infrastructure for sustainable laboratory-based research by helping research laboratories transit to a future of Net-Zero. To do this, LabCycle sorts and segregates plastics on-site, decontaminates them, and finally recycles them into high-grade plastics.
After launching the venture, the team took advantage of the University of Surrey’s SME Innovation Voucher Scheme2 to make contact with experts in the University’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability, including Jhuma Sadhukhan a Professor of Environmental, Energy, and Chemical Engineering who is in Stanford University’s top 1% of world scientists. As a result, they have together formulated a plan for further work on process development and according to Professor Sadhukhan “LabCycle’s process can solve this significant global challenge by keeping carbon within the value chains”.
As it is not yet a for-profit enterprise, Lab Cycle cannot be regarded as an example of Harmonious Entrepreneurship. However, the intention is to create wealth and it declares itself to be aligned with the UN’s SDGs, most notably 8 (Decent Work and Economic growth), 9 (industry Innovation and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities),11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Production and Consumption), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), 15 (Life on Land) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). Accordingly, it would appear to have the ability to become a successful Harmonious Enterprise in which profit, planet, and people are in harmony. We are confident it will do so.
- The SETsquared partnership is a business incubation network of Five universities in the South of England, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. It stands for Southern England Technology Triangle and was launched in 2002.
- The University of Surrey SME Innovation Voucher Scheme aims to cultivate closer ties between U.K.-based SMEs and the University. It introduces businesses to the University with a view to forming new partnerships and identifying opportunities for collaboration.
- The award is intended to help students of the University of Bath take their winning innovative ideas to market. It was donated to the University by His Excellency Khalil Foulathi who graduated in Economics from the University of Bath in 1975.
- The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme provides tax relief to investors whose investments help small, early-stage enterprises raise funding.
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