High hopes for gumbusting product
A UK company claims to have solved one of the stickiest problems facing towns and cities the world over - discarded chewing gum.
Harnessing so-called "super solvent" technology first developed by university scientists in Belfast, Northern Ireland based firm Expelliere International has launched a product which it claims can, in a matter of seconds, remove gum that has been trampled into pavements over decades.
The promise was put to the test in Belfast today as directors of the business set about demonstrating their "xpelgum" kit's capabilities on ground-in gum patches on the city's streets.
The company, which is using "ionic" technology first developed by chemists at Queen's University six years ago, believe the product's potential is huge and has already predicted a turnover of £4 million in its first year on sale.
Estimating the gum clean-up market worldwide to be worth in excess of £30 billion, the Lisburn-based operation is hoping to secure at least a 1% share within five years.
The kit compromises two primary liquids that when applied to the gum send its temperature rocketing to 80C (176F) and, in a dramatic plume of steam, causes a reaction that apparently breaks down the polymers that bind it together.
When the resultant viscous black solution is brushed and wiped away, all traces of the gum appear to go with it.
The company claims the process is environmentally friendly and causes no collateral damage - a boast they sought to prove with a demonstration on the tiled foyer of a luxury hotel in Belfast.
While the kit requires manual application from bottles, the business is working on adapting the technology to work on a larger scale in street cleaning vehicles.
John McCandless, chairman of Expelliere International, said no similar products were available, with current methods of gum removal relying on steam and jet washers.
"The blight of discarded chewing gum has been with us virtually since chewing gum was first mass produced from the turn of the last century," he said.
"Many attempts have been made to find a way of removing unwanted gum but to date a commercially viable solution to the problem has not been found.
"We believe xpelgum is that solution and the extensive testing we have carried out to date with organisations in the leisure, retail, hospitality and contract cleaning sectors has confirmed our belief that we have developed a product with true global appeal.
"We have already taken a significant number of advance orders based on our trial activity which gives us a great deal of confidence in the future of the product."
One of the company's directors is Chris Lomas, a former contestant on BBC Two programme Dragons' Den.
"This is a Northern Ireland company and I couldn't be more excited," he said.
"It's founded and funded in Northern Ireland."
Since the breakthrough by Queen's scientists, the business has invested £2 million in an effort to bring the product to market.
The Stormont Executive's business support agency Invest NI has provided £100,000 to assist with export marketing.
Ian Murphy from Invest NI said: "This forward thinking company has demonstrated that global markets are within the reach of all firms regardless of size or sector.
"Expelliere identified a market need and having developed an innovative solution, accessed Invest NI support to help accelerate growth in export markets. I hope that other firms are similarly encouraged to seek out export opportunities and secure the future of their business."