Yes, we can innovate

Yes, we can innovate

The North East’s process industry at 25% is the largest segment in the region’s economy. Nigel Perry explains why there is good reason to feel optimism about it.

During this time of global economic uncertainty, it’s reassuring that innovation in the UK still prospers – and 2011 thus promises great excitement. Last year saw abundant change, advance and enterprise at the Centre for Process Innovation.

With annual growth since inception in 2004 still beyond expectations, CPI has announced a number of forward-thinking and vital projects to drive forward the UK’s process industries, plastic electronics technologies and low carbon transition.

It’s providing a vital gear in the UK’s wheel of industrial reform at a time when the country must build on its position as one of Europe’s great innovators.

CPI offers market and technology expertise plus cutting-edge development assets to help its public and private sector clients build and prototype the next generation of products, processes and services quickly, efficiently, and with minimal risk.

Having designed and established national technology platforms in printable electronics and sustainable processing, CPI has development laboratories, prototyping facilities and pilot plants enabling clients to prove and scale up processes from laboratory stage to commercial reality.

Scientists and engineers with commercial experience are there to offer expertise and guidance. There’s also a multi-disciplined team who work together on project management, investment and market opportunities to ensure each business fulfils its potential.

CPI, as it continues to achieve tough goals and grow innovation, welcomes the Government’s proposal for a planned network of elite Technology Innovation Centres (TICs). Based on propositions by Hermann Hauser and James Dyson, it’s also a model CPI has implemented and championed in recent years.

With more than £200m being invested by the Government over a four-year period, clearly here’s an area of key future investment.

Further broadening its technology base in high value manufacturing, CPI has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Tata Steel to establish a new High Temperature Innovation Centre (HTIC) on Teesside. With this £5m project, CPI will create an open access research facility centred on two new pilot plants to be installed on the site of Tata’s Teesside Technology Centre. The new plants will extend the site’s existing abilities to research and develop novel sources of fuel and energy, also the recovery of raw materials and reductions in amounts of organic waste produced. The equipment put in comprises a 350kg pyrolysis oven and a two-metre diameter, fully flexible gassifier.

Beneficial to the HTIC is the ability to operate on a scale midway between theoretical, laboratory research and industrial production.

So new technologies can be economically developed and proven on a meaningful and transferrable scale.

CPI has also developed its Anaerobic Digestion Development Centre (ADDC) – the first of its type at this scale in the UK.

It’s an open-accessfacility allowing firms to test and develop novel feedstock and technology combinations, with an aim of giving the UK a base to advance and develop new commercially viable processes and intellectual property in this particular technology.

These new developments will run alongside CPI’s existing printable electronics and sustainable processing facilities, both of which were expanded last year.

The national Printable Electronics Centre at Sedgefield has had a £20m boost with its ongoing expansion project.

This will provide a further 700m2 Class 100 clean room – space giving full flexibility, varied toolsets, greater office space and a growing backbone of industry-renowned expertise.

Last year also saw CPI’s industrial biotechnology demonstrator facility develop. This will stimulate the use of industrial biotechnology to develop and demonstrate processes that deliver viable products. The facility – tailored to the production of fuels, high-volume platform chemicals, low-volume speciality and higher value chemicals using renewable feedstocks such as biomass and waste – can also integrate chemical processing and bioprocessing. Yes, 2011 is a year of process innovation we relish.

Nigel Perry is chief executive of the Centre for Process Innovation.