MDF Recovery (MDFR), based in Anglesey, North Wales, has successfully completed proof of concept trials and is now actively scaling up the process that will allow the recovery of wood fibre from waste MDF. The technology offers the first-ever alternative to the landfilling or incinerating of waste MDF and produces high-quality natural fibres that can be re-injected into the manufacture of new MDF boards. They are also suitable for valuable markets such as insulation and horticulture.
Craig Bartlett, MDF Recovery’s MD, has devoted the last six years to creating a solution that has the potential to be a game-changing technology on a global scale. Until recent additions to the board, Craig had run MDFR alone, which is why KTN’s support and guidance has been invaluable.
Successful commercialisation of MDFR’s technology will see revenues of over £18M generated for the UK economy by 2024. This represents a return on investment of nearly 400% on Innovate UK’s grant funding. Due to the global nature of the MDF product sector, much of this revenue will be derived from export sales.
KTN has been a source of support and guidance for MDF Recovery over many years.
In 2013, when MDFR was a start-up with limited manpower and resource, KTN helped the company to identify funding programmes that might help move the business forward; encouraging them to apply for SMART funding in order to move the technology away from successful bench trials towards a pre-commercial prototype. KTN helped by signposting MDFR to the relevant people at Innovate UK, and provided expert oversight of the application process; ensuring that MDFR focused on the core messages of improving UK competitiveness and high value job creation. This application was successful, with a grant of £237,000 being awarded against a total project value of £527,000.
Craig Bartlett, MDF Recovery’s MD said, “There is no question that without the support and guidance of KTN, we would not be where we are today. KTN’s stated remit is to help innovators find partners and funding. In the case of MDF Recovery, KTN has more than delivered.”
During this time, KTN made MDFR aware of another Innovate UK competition that was aligned with its technology and commercial ambition.
Again, MDFR received substantial support and guidance from KTN by for partners who might be suited to the ‘Supply Chain Innovation for a Circular Economy’ competition.
After a positive evaluation at first stage, Innovate UK agreed to put the SMART award on hold until MDFR had heard from the second-stage evaluation for the Circular Economy project, thereby allowing it the opportunity to expand the context of the R&D with a larger grant and more joined-up supply chain involvement.
Despite stiff competition from the many large-scale organisations that bid into this funding programme, MDFR received confirmation that it had secured, on behalf of the eight partner consortium, a grant exceeding £500,000.
This was a crucial moment in the MDFR story and demonstrated just what can be achieved when business innovators such as Craig Bartlett and organisations like the KTN work in tandem.
The ‘Supply Chain Innovation for a Circular Economy’ project got underway in October 2014 and was completed at the end of 2016, achieving its key objective of delivering a pilot plant capable of recovering high quality wood fibre from waste medium density fibreboard in a continuous fashion.
This proved to be a critical milestone in the development of the MDFR business and a significant number of industrial stakeholders have since visited the plant to see the process in operation. Without the help of KTN and Innovate UK, it would have taken MDFR much longer to reach this stage.
As a result of witnessing first-hand the recovery process, several multi-national MDF manufacturing groups have now engaged with MDFR to begin the commercialisation process. The technology is getting close to market at a time when raw material costs are rising for the sector and demands from customers to take back MDF-based waste are increasing.
Having been successful in the second open competition from Innovate UK MDFR are now involved in a £400k+ collaborative project with one of Europe’s leading panel board manufacturers with the aim of scaling up the process to take the technology to market.