Company Applies for Tyres to Diesel Patent
Paul Archer, a former firefighter from Durham, has applied to patent an invention that turns old car tyres into good quality diesel oil. Thanks to a suggestion from his patent attorney, his business now expects to earn millions from selling licences worldwide. From the germ of an idea in the early 1990s, Paul Archer (who now lives in the East Midlands) and his business partners have formed a company – UTD Research Ltd – and built a working prototype that is now set to process up to two million old tyres a year at their first UK plant near Wrexham, North Wales.
The UTD invention means that the environment can be spared the harmful effects of millions of tons of old tyres being tipped into landfill sites, and increasingly scarce fossil fuels can be eked out with the oil recovered from used tyres. In a recent televised test, reclaimed oil from UTD’s process was mixed with fuel-station diesel to power a standard family saloon car. With no modifications at all, the car performed normally.
“The EU ban on dumping old tyres in landfill sites, coupled with the recent hike in crude oil prices, means that our process is economically viable,” claims Paul Archer. “The beauty of our business model,” he adds, “is that we get paid at both ends. The companies that take away old tyres are no longer allowed to dump them, so they pay us to take them off their hands. Then, when we’ve done the processing, we can sell the steel, carbon black and oil that we recover.”
UTD’s application for international patent protection has proved beneficial not only in fending off imitators but also for opening up the global market, with minimal investment. “When we first looked at UTD’s business plan, we realised that they could achieve much faster growth than they had initially envisaged,” says Ilya Kazi, a partner with Mathys & Squire, a firm of patent attorneys. “We suggested that through strategic use of intellectual property, they could scale up rapidly by selling licences to other operators worldwide, generating income from an early stage with much less investment than they had anticipated.”
UTD’s process is called Continuous Reductive Distillation. It involves breaking up old tyres into fist-sized chunks and loading them into a machine that looks like an industrial-scale tumble-drier. There, they are heated in a sealed, oxygen-deprived atmosphere until the volatile constituents separate from the carbon and steel solids. Some of the gases given off are recycled to power the heating process, but most are condensed into oil. Steel, carbon black and oil emerge from the other end – all valuable commodities that can be sold.
Paul Archer researched published sources, including patent databases, to find out whether anybody had already invented a process for recycling old tyres. He identified a few inventions that had been tried without much success, including a process that used old coking ovens and another involving microwaves. None appeared to have been commercially successful, so he set about developing an alternative. Using bits and pieces of household machinery, he and his friend soon built a device that successfully separated oil and carbon black from old car tyres.
They knew enough about intellectual property rights to understand that a patent would be the best way of protecting their invention. However, as the idea was not yet sufficiently advanced for them to file a patent application, they relied on keeping the details secret, telling nobody how it worked.
Convinced that their invention had potential, they approached an acquaintance, Jim Innes, who was working for the now-defunct Hamilton Oil. He got his company’s laboratory to analyse the oil produced from car tyres and found that it was comparable to crude oil.
By this time, Paul Archer had finished his MBA at Durham University and was working for the Energy Saving Trust in Peterborough. With encouragement and support from his new business partners, he left the EST and became the first full-time employee of the company that was registered in 2003 as Used Tyre Distillation Research Limited.