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University of Exeter Team Reaches the Final of the Engineers in Business Innovation Competition

On 26 October 2020 Jonathan Elliot, an MEng in Materials Engineering at the University of Exeter, will lead a team as they compete against nine others to win a prestigious Engineers in Business Competition (EIBC) Award, a share of £10,000 and business mentoring from a Sainsbury Management Fellow.

The EIBC supports and promotes the idea of a combined engineering and business education and provides prize funding to universities to help them encourage more engineers and technology students/graduates to get involved in innovation and entrepreneurship. In a world that is moving and developing so rapidly, these skills are vital to help tackle challenging global problems and to improve our lives. 

PETexe: A washing machine filter that traps microplastics released from synthetic clothing

This year, Jonathan and his team won the University of Exeter’s innovation competition and was awarded £750 from EIBC for creating PETexe, a business that is developing a microplastic filter for washing machines that traps microplastics released from synthetic clothing. The team then entered and won a place in the national EIBC Champion of Champions Final where they are competing for a Business Start-up Award and a further £3,000. The cash prize will go towards the ongoing development of PETexe.   

Rachel Quintin-Baxendale, an MEng in Mechanical Engineering and another key member of PETexe team, explained:“Our innovation is a microplastic filter for washing machines that traps microplastics released from synthetic clothing. When trapped, a solution of our bioengineered enzyme solution is released to degrade the plastic into benign chemicals before their release into the water systems. Our innovation is important because of the scale of microplastic pollution. With hundreds of thousands of tonnes of microplastics being released from domestic washing machines every year, microplastics have now been found in almost all marine life around the globe. On our current trajectory the microplastic problem will only get worse. We have been in contact with some of the largest washing machine manufacturers in the world and currently there isn’t an ideal solution as any filter would need to be cleaned very regularly. Our product offers a solution to this as our unique enzyme solution can fully degrade the microplastics inside the machine, meaning a better user experience.”

Jonathan added: “Plastic is a problem in many areas of society, in some areas it can be recycled and reused but in others it ends up accumulating in nature or in landfill. Bacteria and enzyme research have meant that for the last few years we have been able to break down plastic, fully degrading it, but this process is too slow for most applications. However, our thought was that the unique aspect ratios and size of microplastics mean that this technology becomes viable again. After testing we showed that this was possible and have been working on making it a viable product since. With legislation in France meaning that by 2025 all-new washing machines will require a microplastic filter built-in, we hope that we can use our connections in the home appliance sector to develop our technology for wider use, resulting in a significant reduction of microplastic waste.”

The Awards Presentation Ceremony – 26 October 2020

The live online dragons’ den style competition will be compered by TV presenter and engineer, Kate Bellingham. Competing against nine other teams, PETexe will have just six minutes to convince the judges, through their presentation and Q&A, that they should be crowned Champion of Champions and take home a £3,000 Business Start-up Award. Amongst other criteria, the judges will be assessing just how much of an impact PETexe might have on their target customers, as well as how it will solve the real-world environmental challenges posed by microplastic waste.

The prestigious judging panel comprises: 

●    Ana Avaliani, Associate Director, Enterprise, Royal Academy of Engineering

●    Gareth Trainer, Chair, Enterprise Educators UK

●    Henning von Spreckelsen, Director and Investor in Plastecowood

●    Steve Cleverley, CEO, Oxentia Ltd, Global Innovation Consultancy

As an MEng in Materials Engineering who is now steeped in entrepreneurship, Jonathan is passionate about business education for engineers and technologists. He said: 

“I think that without an understanding of business, scientific innovation loses its edge. There is no use designing revolutionary technology if nobody is ever going to use it. Business innovation skills are the bridge between the laboratories and the real world. Business knowledge protects engineers and researchers as they are prepared for what they will face going forwards. An example of this was PETexe’s lack of understanding of patent law meaning we made our lives a lot harder by publishing a lot of our work before we started talking to patent attorneys. Better education would have protected us and ensured we put our best foot forward throughout.”