Steve Burton of Andusia
As the staff at Andusia celebrated their fifth anniversary last month, co-founder and director Steve Burton took some time out to reflect on the company’s rapid growth
Hertford’s Andusia Recovered Fuels has grown into one of the nation’s fastest growing small businesses and one of the industry’s top exporters since its launch in 2012.
The company was founded by Steve Burton and Stewart Brackenbury who decided to start the business after seeing the potential in exporting household and commercial waste.
“Stewart and I have been in waste management for a number of years,” said Steve. “The idea came about when I was talking to a customer of mine and they had a load of waste that didn’t seem to fit into what we did.
“Luckily, we managed to sell it on to someone who would turn it into fuel for the cement industry. It was only when we continued to look into it afterwards that we realised it wasn’t just suitable for the cement industry but it also had the potential to fit into mainstream incineration.”
The pair continued researching the concept and saw a market developing for the exporting of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), which is generated from solid processed waste, to Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
Whereas in the UK most of the waste simply goes to landfill, over there it is incinerated and converted into energy. With this in mind, Stewart and Steve decided to give it a go themselves and with an abundance of unused household waste in the UK, decided to begin exporting it.
During its first year of trading, the company exported around 13,000 tonnes of RDF and were the UK’s 13th largest exporter of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF).
By 2016, Andusia had become established as the UK’s largest independent exporter (number 1 to Norway and Sweden; and number 2 to Germany).
“When Stewart and I started Andusia RFL five years ago, we could not have foreseen how successful this company would be,” said Steve.
“Commentators were predicting that the RDF sector would only last 3-5 years, but as can be seen from the latest Environment Agency figures, the sector is continuing to rise six years after the first RDF was exported, and Andusia continue to be a major contributor to the sector.”
The company has grown year-on-year since its launch and earlier this year saw staff numbers rise from 8 to 13 people together with the company doubling its office space to accommodate its increased headcount.
“When we first looked into the idea around seven years ago the exporting of this kind of waste had just started, there had only been 100,000 tonnes shipped that year.
“Exports of that material now amount to about 3,500,000 tonnes per year. The market has grown significantly in the last 6-7 years. Our business was pretty much at the forefront of that.”
Andusia’s impressive growth has been driven by its overseas growth and its innovative work. Exporting accounts for 100% of the company’s current business and turnover has grown from £2.6m to £18.1m within just five years. This has led to Andusia being named among The Sunday Times SME Export Track 100 and The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100.
However, a particular highlight for Andusia was being presented with the Queen’s Award for International Trade, an industry first for the RDF sector, where both Steve and Stewart were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and further be presented with the award by The Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.
These achievements haven’t come without challenges however. As they were one of the first companies to break into the exporting of RDF fuels, there were always going to be others looking to jump on the bandwagon and emulate their success.
“I think we got into the market at just the right time,” said Steve, “that always helps as you have first mover advantage. This year however there were 40 companies exporting RDF. Every job we go for, we have the competition of the other 39.
“Luckily, we have some very good and loyal clients. We have the City of Amsterdam, the City of Oslo, some real big organisations. They’ve renewed their work with us every year which shows we’re providing the best possible service, we’re very flexible and the businesses we work with love that.”
But as with any industry, there is only so much work to bid for and Steve believes the RDF fuel industry, especially in terms of UK exporters, is set for further consolidation. Despite this, he is confident Andusia is well positioned to capitalise on it.
He added: “I think the industry will continue to consolidate. Two years ago there were 60 exporters and now there are only 40. I think that trend will continue as individual exporters become bigger and more professional and the economy scales.
“I think in terms of total volume, the export market will increase on a marginal basis from 5-10% a year but within the next 18 months I think the UK will start building its own plants on a wider scale. This will bring with it the opportunity to supply into the UK probably to a larger extent than we export.
“At the moment we have a 9% share of the export market and we think it will be even bigger in the UK. I think we’ll have around a 9% share of a 15 million tonne market whereas in Europe it’s a 9% share of a 3.5 million tone market."
Now, with plans to expand into exporting different waste types including wood and Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) used in the cement manufacturing process and working alongside the construction of UK CHP plants, Andusia is confident that the next five years will prove to be even more rewarding.
Steve added: “Our plan is to continue to grow. We want to explore further opportunities such as different kinds of waste fuels. Whilst RDF exports into the historical European countries looks to have started to level-off, there are still significant opportunities further afield for both RDF and other secondary fuels, particularly SRF.
“There is also a steadily developing market for waste fuels in the UK, which after a slow start is now really gaining serious momentum, and Andusia is in an excellent position to assist CHP developers secure the specific fuel supply they require.”