A novel, safe, cost-effective method of treating and disposing of waste metalworking fluids has been developed by researchers from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The new treatment method is based on microbiological technology developed by Professor Ian Thompson and Dr Christopher van der Gast. The scientists, in collaboration with the NERC Commercialisation Team and Oxford-based investors H2O Venture Partners, identified a market need for the technology and have formed a spin-out company, Microbial Solutions Ltd.

The technology, known as Microcycle, is capable of breaking down whole waste metalworking fluids (MWFs) without the need for pre-treatment and to Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) levels well below the environmental consent limit. The waste can therefore be safely disposed of in local sewers.

Untreated waste MWFs carry very high levels of COD so cannot safely be disposed of in sewers. Current disposal methods of the waste generally require transportation to a centralised disposal and treatment facility.

Professor Ian Thompson said, "New regulations over the past few years have inflated the costs involved in disposing of MWFs. Our technology provides an on-site solution that allows for their safe disposal without the need for costly transportation, which saves both money and time."

This cost-effective alternative to traditional disposal methods is enabling the company to compete within the $1b metalworking fluids disposal market in Europe.

Dr van der Gast said, "Establishing a new business to market a new commercial project is an exciting venture. We've got a really strong management team in place to take the business forward and we're currently speaking to investors so I can see a busy time ahead of us!"

The project benefited from NERC, BBSRC and DTI funding and early investment from H2O Venture Partners, which invests and builds businesses based on technology arising from the UK's publicly-funded research base, and the Rainbow Seed Fund, a limited partnership of the leading UK Research Councils and organisations which together spend over £1bn per annum on research and development.


Further information

Contact the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology press office


1. Professor Ian Thompson is currently seconded to the University of Oxford's Institute of Advanced Technologies.

2. The Natural Environment Research Council funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £370m a year from the Government's science budget and leads in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences.

3. The NERC Commercialisation Team works with scientists within NERC's four wholly-owned Research Centres (British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory) to identify commercial development opportunities for technologies developed through research projects, identify collaborators and negotiate licenses.

4. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is the UK's leading research organisation for land and freshwater science. Its scientists carry out research to improve our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth's support systems. It is one of the Natural Environment Research Council's research centres.

5. H2O Venture Partners (Private Equity) LLP invests in early stage technology companies arising from premier universities, research organisations and existing companies. As a Board member, it then works intensively with the founders to bring the proposition as close to market as possible before seeking follow-on funding. This includes developing the business model, identifying key development and commercialisation partners and recruiting the management team, and secure follow-on finance. By investing seed capital and high-level resources at the critical early stage in development, H2O's involvement maximises the upside, minimises the downside and optimises the trajectory of nascent technology companies.

6. The £8.5m Rainbow Seed Fund was established with funding from the Office of Science and Innovation to commercialise scientific research in a leading group of the UK publicly funded institutions. The fund invests at the earliest stages, often before there is a company, and helps to find people with commercial skills and other investors to turn an idea into a business. Rainbow's partners spend over £1billion on research and development every year giving the Fund privileged access to high quality investment propositions at the earliest stage.

7. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380m in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

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