THE first company to occupy the enterprise zone at Alconbury Weald looks set to be at the cutting edge of recycling technology.

Enval Limited, which was spun off from Cambridge University’s department of chemical engineering six years ago and is currently based in Luton, wants to expand the research and development arm of its aluminium reclamation business into two of the existing buildings at the former Alconbury airfield.

The company has developed a process for recycling laminated films from packaging in which thin foil is sandwiched between layers of plastic or paper – such as food and drink packaging and tubes for toothpaste and cosmetics.

Until recently, there has been no technology for recovering the metal or plastic constituents, so laminate waste – 139,000 tonnes a year in the UK alone, and increasing by 10 per cent a year – has been disposed of in landfill sites or incinerated.

At Alconbury Weald, Enval aims to show major waste handlers, such as Veolia, Sita, Biffa and Shanks, and clients such as Nestlé and Kraft that they could make huge savings by recovering the metal and plastics components on a commercial sale rather than paying landfill taxes.

The company has developed a process called ‘microwave-induced pyrolisis’ in which the energy required for heating the material is provided by microwaves. The outputs are aluminium flakes, oil and gas that is used to fire the process.

Enval says the operation will require 210-220kW of power, all of which will be generated in the reactor on site.

The aluminium is recovered as clean metal that can be reintroduced to the supply chain. The oils can be used either as fuel for electricity or as feedstock for speciality chemicals. The gas powers the generator that produces electricity for the microwave system.

The Alconbury plant is expected to process between 1,500 and 2,000 tonnes of material a year.

Waste laminate material is first shredded than divided into its component parts in the microwave kiln.

“As the first viable solution to the recovery of aluminium from everyday laminated packaging, the materials recovery demonstrator centre will add value locally, regionally, and also potentially nationally, through the development of a unique, sustainable and innovative technology that has the potential to be replicated on a commercial scale,” Enval’s consultants, David Lock Associates, said.

It is the precisely the sort of high-tech that the enterprise zone’s owner, Urban&Civic, and the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership envisaged for Alconbury Weald - building on Cambridge’s reputation for innovation and Huntingdonshire’s record in applying the technology.

Tim Leathes, U&C’s project director for Alconbury Weald, said: I can confirm that we are in discussions with Enval as a potential early tenant for Alconbury Enterprise Campus, subject to planning permission for the change of use of an existing building.

“As a spin-out from the department of chemical engineering at Cambridge University, Enval represents a good example of the R&D offer of the site, providing quality space for research and development to retain and grow locally-generated ideas from the local area’s world-class centres of knowledge.

“The site – with its zero carbon aspirations and close links to innovation, skills and enterprise – is also a great place to showcase and commercialise these ideas which in turn will deliver jobs, supply-chain and other business opportunities for the local area.”