Belfast company which turns coal waste into fuel gets £2 million investment

Allen Martin, a partner at Kernel Capital; Ken Flockhart, Silform chief executive; Mervyn McCall, Silform chairman; Paul McClurg, head of business banking Belfast, Bank of Ireland UK

A BELFAST-based company which aims to turn discarded coal waste into fuel has secured a £2 million investment to set up a pilot plant in Co Tyrone.

Silform, based in the Gasworks site in the south of the city, has developed a patented process to take quality coal waste and turn it into special pellets which can be used in industry.

A pilot plant to carry out further tests on the fuel pellets is being built outside Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.

The £2 million investment has come from the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund (NI), along with private investors.

Silform's chief executive, Glasgow-born Ken Flockhart, said he hopes the plant will be operational by November.

He said coal-mining in the US alone creates billions of tonnes of waste every year - a potential threat to the environment.

The company sources coal waste from countries including Australia, South Africa, Germany and Poland.

"This waste is just lying around and some of it is actually really good material," he said.

"We can pick this up, clean it up and use it. One of the key things we do is clean up waste."

He said as the use of fossil fuels is slowly phased out over the next few decades, his company can help in the move towards greener energy sources.

"We characterise our process as energy changeover," he said.

He added: "We've created a process so that we can clean up the mess that's been made."

"As the mines are closed down, we'll be able to assist in the changeover," he said.

Mr Flockhart said the process used to manufacture the pellets is "very, very low-energy".

"We doesn't use massive heat, we don't use any major pressure - that's what's unique about it," he said.

He said the pellets were "weatherproof" and could be stacked in the same way as coal.

Now employing nine people, the company is also developing separate products, including BioCoal - coal waste mixed with waste sawdust which creates lower carbon emissions than coal but has a higher burn rate than wood pellets - and specialist coal pellets for use in the steel industry.

Mr Flockhart has a background in civil engineering and worked on major building projects across the world including the construction of the Festival City residential, business and entertainment mall in Dubai.

The 67-year-old got involved in Silform several years ago and has worked closely on developing the project.

Mr Flockhart said the pilot plant in Ballygawley will "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this can be done".

Silform chairman Mervyn McCall said the funding was a "major milestone" for the company.

"Having worked with Ken and Silform Technologies for the last three years, I see the significant impact this technology could have not just locally, but also on a global scale across a number of industries, and indeed the environment," he said.

Allen Martin, a partner in Kernel Capital, said it was pleased to continue to invest in the company.

"Following on from our initial investment, the company has successfully developed and patented innovative technology that has the potential to deliver significant environmental and economic returns," he said.

"This investment will enable the company to establish a pilot plant in conjunction with its commercial partners."

The Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund (NI) was set up to help small to medium business in Northern Ireland speed up their growth.

Invest Northern Ireland has committed £15m of funding to this fund which is part financed by the European Union.

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