‘I’d like to see my food waste idea in kitchens all over the world’
Small business can: Zero Waste Biotech
Most people have no idea that methane gas is 10 times more damaging as a pollutant than carbon dioxide. However, it is a little-known fact that prompted Stephen Beck to look for a solution for the problem of global warming he hopes will be used in businesses and homes around the world.
At the same time, Stephen is hoping the technology he has been involved in developing will also help to save the lives of people caught in war zones and natural disasters.
It might seem like an ambitious plan but 35-year-old Stephen, who has a background in business development, is determined to bring the aerobic digester to a global market.
He set up Zero Waste Biotech with Anna Hopwood and Clive Taylor as a result of internet research while looking for a new business idea.
With a background in business development, he was ideally placed to identify potential to build up a company as governments around the world strive to tackle climate change.
An increasing number of countries are implementing legislation to reduce the amount of food waste being sent to landfill in a bid to reduce methane emissions.
"I have a few businesses at the moment and have had entrepreneurial success," he says. "I just have a drive to do things and most of my businesses are connected to my interests.
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"I believe that climate change is a threat to our planet and I wanted to do something about that.
"We are committed to reducing climate change emissions and we have developed technology that converts food waste into clean renewable biomass fuel within 24 hours.
"Food doesn't become waste just when it isn't eaten, there is also a lot of waste from when it's being prepared, like with potato skins.
"We have developed the Aero-D machine, it's a small compact machine that can sit in the kitchen so that staff in a restaurant can just open it up and tip the food in.
"It can be used by anyone and the food is converted in 24 hours, it's a completely continuous cycle and it doesn't give off any toxins.
"Using our machine is much more cost effective than storing food waste and having it taken away and removes the issues associated with that.
"If you're storing food waste for three or four days in the bin, it attracts rats, pigeons and gulls, it becomes an environmental health issue.
"Our machine removes that problem and creates biomass fuel that makes it very cost effective.
"That's so important when you're trying to develop a business proposition that has the best chance of commercial success."
There are currently a number of processes being used to treat food waste.
But Stephen says the Aero-D machine is a much more superior system.
Composters are small and slow - they can take up to six months to process the food and they take maintenance.
Larger anaerobic digesters, which have been pushed by governments, take four to six weeks to process waste. However, they can be the size of a football field, are expensive and can be unstable.
Stephen adds: "You can have toxic spills which results in things like fish kills."
There are a number of different sizes and Stephen said they can be used in small restaurants right up to hospitals, with the largest units generating heating, hot water and power.
The team has been working for a number of years to develop the concept and are now at the stage where they are putting in place trials to prove the functionality of the units.
Stephen says: "We need to change human behaviour and the behaviour of businesses, but business is based around profit and loss.
"That means if we want to change the behaviour of business then we have to make our technology commercially viable.
"We have to prove that our machine is going to reduce methane and be cost effective.
"If we can prove that we can reduce their costs by nearly a third, it suddenly becomes commercially interesting to businesses."
Looking to the future, Stephen says he wants to see the Aero-D machine in homes on an international scale.
"I want it to get to the stage where it sits in people's kitchens next to their washing machine and dishwasher," he says
"If there is human population our machines can sit right beside them so if you look at them from a humanitarian point of view, they could make a real difference.
"They can be transported around the world on a plane and within a few hours they could be at the scene of a natural disaster and producing heat, hot water and electricity almost immediately.
"From a military point of view, they could also be used by army personnel, so with the likes of Nato if they have a forward operating base we could drop in our machine to become an energy system.
"These are the things we would love to be involved with."
He adds: "We're not planning to sell this in Northern Ireland, from the very beginning we are looking at purely exporting."
Given their aspirations for the product, Stephen says one of the biggest challenges has been finding the necessary support to build the business to a global scale.
He says that when it comes to making a success of a business, it is important to take advice from more experienced business people.
"Surround yourself with people who have been there and have the scars to prove it," he adds.
"It's best to learn from other people's mistakes, they have been there and done that.
"You have to be a sponge, take their advice, try to apply that to what you are doing.
"Try to remember that there are things you know and things you don't know and the things you don't know you don't know are going to be the problem.
"It's important to remember that things are going to be difficult, it's a hard, long road but it's incredibly rewarding."