N2S scoops nationwide innovation awards

BusinessGreen and Digital Leaders recognise N2S’s sustainable IT recycling solutions.

Bury St Edmunds: 29 June 2022 n2s are delighted to announce a brace of nationwide business awards received last week. 

On Wednesday 22 June n2s were awarded the coveted BusinessGreen Innovation of the Year Award, swiftly followed by runner-up in The Digital Leaders 100 GreenTech Innovation Award the following day. On both occasions, n2s were on a final shortlist of 10 potential winners before the judges made their final decisions.   

These awards recognise n2s’s pioneering Bioleaching technology and the game-changing potential it provides for reducing the environmental impact of e-waste, turning the Digital Economy’s growing IT hardware lifecycle and disposal challenges into sustainable closed loop solutions. 

“Our latest awards come in the middle of a momentous year of accelerated growth and expansion for N2S as we scale to meet rising demand for our sustainable IT Lifecycle Management solutions,” said Andrew Gomarsall, n2s Executive Chairman. 

“Winning a Business Green award is a huge accolade for our company and is a credit to our entire team. The judges were looking for entries that showcased a genuinely unique technology, service or business model that challenges current business thinking, promises tangible environmental benefits, and has clear potential to tackle a pressing environmental issue. We were able to clearly demonstrate how our Bioleaching technology and process is already being used while also providing evidence of a clear strategy for its future deployment.

“I was also immensely proud to represent N2S at the Digital Leaders awards ceremony to celebrate the individuals and organisations from the public, private and non-profit sectors who are demonstrating a pioneering and sustainable approach to digital transformation in the UK.”  

The Digital Leaders 100 Awards were marking their tenth anniversary this year and with this the introduction of GreenTech, a brand-new innovation award category. This is for a product, service or initiative which helps to reduce CO2 emissions or pollution, minimise waste, or protect ecosystems. 

Founded 20 years ago, N2S contributes significantly to the circular economy by maximising the lifecycle of business IT equipment. As a highly accredited and certified leader in the pursuit of zero-waste technology, N2S refurbishes, remarkets and recycles around 1,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment every year from all domains of technology – the equivalent of 250,000 IT devices – avoiding 4,589,000 kilos of CO2e and enabling rebates to customers of over £3.5M.

--- Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says supply concerns further highlight the need for e-waste recycling ---

--- RSC research also reveals global concern over e-waste fuelling demand for sustainable tech ---

--- 60% of consumers would switch to rival of preferred tech brand if goods were produced sustainably ---

Global volatility in supply chains for critical raw materials used in everything from computers to EVs underlines the argument for a circular e-waste economy, says the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Significant fluctuations in prices of materials such as nickel – a key element in next-gen EV battery tech – as well as elements like lithium, palladium, titanium, copper, gold and platinum, are being seen in the wake of geopolitical uncertainty and continued challenges due to the COVID pandemic. 

This is causing chaos in the technology supply chain, with speculators calling for more domesticated mining to quell global supply chain fears.

The RSC say localised e-waste recycling to recover these materials from technology should be prioritised to reduce the impact of volatile supply chains in the long term and address a growing demand from consumers for sustainable technology. 

Consumers agree, with 73% of respondents to the RSC’s international survey stating that they believe governments should take urgent action to tackle e-waste before the situation gets any worse. Furthermore, 74% said they believe brands should do more to show how sustainable electronic products are. 

Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

“It appears as though consumer attitudes are finally starting to change, with concern for the depletion of natural resources, labour conditions and the growing e-waste crisis curtailing our desire to have the most up-to-date pieces of kit.

“This is very encouraging, but we’re not there yet and recent events have further highlighted that supply chains are always at risk of being compromised. Our tech consumption habits remain highly unsustainable and have left us at risk of exhausting the raw elements needed to produce such items, while continuing to exacerbate the environmental damage these habits have caused.

“Developing a circular economy where minerals used in tech devices are salvaged and repurposed could help us to bypass supply chain issues in the future while also helping to reduce environmental impacts. It is essential that governments and businesses urgently do more to develop a circular economy which can tackle the world’s growing e-waste crisis and alleviate the strain on supply chains.”  

The Royal Society of Chemistry asked 10,000 consumers across 10 countries about their attitudes towards technology and waste, and found that growing global concern over the e-waste crisis is fuelling consumer demand for sustainable technology.

Two-thirds of consumers (66%) believe it is too difficult to find out if a device has been sustainably produced before purchasing, and 60% of those surveyed say they would be more likely to switch to a rival of their preferred tech brand if they knew the product was made in a sustainable way.

Looking at the end of the product lifecycle, just over half (57%) said they worry about the environmental effect of the unused tech devices they have at home, but either don’t know what to do with them or are unconvinced the current processes available in their local area deal with e-waste effectively.

The figures have been revealed as part of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Precious Elements campaign, which draws attention to supply risks of some of the elements used in consumer technology including the likes of gold, yttrium and indium. The shortage has become so urgent that designs for devices such as solar panels are already being changed to account for the high demand of certain elements used in mobile phones.

Do chemists have the answer?

Chemical scientists around the globe are working on solutions to help recover these elements from our unwanted devices. 

In Bury St Edmunds, scientists at N2S have developed a bacterial amalgamation that recovers valuable and reusable metals from waste circuitry via a process known as bioleaching.

Their patent-pending technology harnesses the power of micro-organisms that naturally work to separate metals and precious elements from the plastic and silicon found in circuit boards. The output is a host of metals and minerals ready to be reused as if they had been freshly mined from the ground.

Up until now, most techniques to recover precious metals in e-waste involve using acid or heat to melt the plastic, both of which are effective in recovering metals such as gold and copper but lead to the loss of scarcer elements such as indium and tantalum.

Rob Bolton, Operations Director at N2S, said:

“A printed circuit board contains a whole host of precious elements, up to 40 in fact, and these boards can measure from a few inches square to a few feet. The solution we have is environmentally friendly and can be deployed at scale, which is essential to deal with the world’s enormous e-waste pipeline.

“So much of what we do has never been done before. We’re even in the process of designing machines that help us deconstruct circuit boards to make them easier to process.”

N2S will open two new sites this year, in Reading and Mansfield. Rob says one of their key strengths is being able to deploy the technology anywhere.

“We see this being a multi-national operation. We want to be set up next to all the tech giants, processing e-waste so the materials can be recovered and reused on the same site. We just feed the boards in and elements come out. It makes so much sense.”

Professor Welton added:

“Not only do we need governments to overhaul recycling infrastructure and tech businesses to invest in more sustainable manufacturing practices, we need greater public and private investment in research to enable chemical scientists like those at N2S to progress methods of separating critical raw materials from electronic waste for recycling purposes.

“However, in the nearer term, we urge everyone to be more conscious about how they use and reuse technology. Before you dispose or replace it, ask yourself if it really needs replaced. Could it be repaired or updated? If it can’t be sold or donated, could it be recycled?” 

The Royal Society of Chemistry was invited to give evidence to the UK Government’s Environmental Audit Committee report into e-waste in 2020 following the launch of its Precious Elements campaign, which revealed that up to 40 million unused gadgets were stockpiled in people’s homes because they didn’t know how to dispose of them. 

The recommendations outlined the importance of a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ economy, called for incentives to design technology with sustainability in mind and highlighted the need for enhanced labelling. 

It also raised awareness of six of the elements used in smartphones that are facing the highest risk, and the need to safeguard the naturally available supply of all critical raw materials for future low carbon technologies. The recommendations have now been put to the government for possible inclusion in the new Environment Bill.

Chemical researchers in academia and industry are working to develop solutions and the Royal Society of Chemistry is collaborating to communicate recommendations to policy makers.

Case study: Shortage of some precious elements has already forced engineers to redesign how solar panels are made

Dr Matthew Davies, is the Associate Professor in Materials Engineering and head of the Applied Photochemistry Group at the SPECIFIC IKC, Swansea University. He said our demand for consumer technology has already changed the way we design future and emerging technologies with several critical ‘technology’ metals in short supply.

“Indium is a crucial part of your mobile phone’s touch-screen, but it’s also useful for solar cells,” he said.  “There’s only so much of a supply of Indium though and renewables aren’t going to beat the demand of mobile phones – so we’ve already planned for future solar cells to be indium-free. Instead of indium tin oxide, we’re now using fluorine tin oxide. While it means we can still make solar cells, without indium it limits our choice on the flexibility of these cells.

“As time moves on we are seeing more material challenges and more materials that we need to substitute. This is not always as straight forward as the indium case. The biggest fear is that we will see manufacturers of renewables and energy efficient products having to compete for materials thus limiting deployment of technology that can mitigate climate change.”

The unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent refugee crisis has left many of us shaken and worried for the people involved. With up to two million Ukrainians forced to flee in the face of Russian bombs and tanks, there is an urgent need for assistance from the wider family of European nations. Here at N2S, we’ve been asking what we can do to lend a hand.

This week, N2S Chairman Jack Gomarsall jumped into the cab of one of our articulated lorries and joined forces with Gina Long, the amazing people at her charity GeeWizz and an army of volunteers to collect supplies for Ukraine over an epic eight day charitable collection drive.

Items including coats, hats, scarves and blankets were collected by the bagful, loaded onto Jack’s lorry and brought to Bury St. Edmunds to be sorted. What started out as an ambition to fill three transit vans with goods to drive to the Romania/Ukraine border quickly snowballed, as hundreds of volunteers collected enough donations to fill six vans and 17 (seventeen!) lorries. 

The volunteers were women, men and children of all ages. GeeWizz normally has a staff of ‘2.5’, but received overwhelming support from their local community. Many came to “just drop off a bag or two”, but returned to help on every one of the eight, 18-hour days of the collection drive. Each day, and every bag of goods sorted was filled with huge emotion as the volunteers pictured where it may end up. There were exhausted tears, there was unity, and above all the desire to make whatever difference they could.

The local office of law firm Ashtons Legal loaned their office to help with the administration of the collection, Coastline Graphics produced signage for the collection within hours, while individuals and hauliers supplied much needed storage and indeed the transport to the Ukraine borders. On Saturday, N2S joined the operation. 

Jack Gomarsall and Gina Long had never met before the collection began. After a chance meeting between Gina Long and Jack’s wife Gillie Gomarsall at the FOLK Cafe, Jack changed his plans, unlocked his yard and personally drove 30 miles with his daughter Emily to Martlesham Tesco to collect a truck full of donations. 

On Monday, after GeeWizz ran out of space to store the donations, Jack delivered another 40ft truck, which was taken to Felixstowe on Tuesday morning and then out to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, all of the goods were safely delivered to the Ukrainian border, to be distributed to the refugees by the humanitarian workers there. Two weeks ago, the vast majority of these people would have had little need for charity; now, they just have very little, and every donation has the potential to save a life.

N2S executive Chairman Andy Gomarsall MBE said:

“I’m so proud of my Dad, my niece and sister for getting involved in this epic effort. It happened after a chance encounter over a coffee at the FOLK Cafe and it all snowballed from there. Dad drove his lorry to multiple locations around Ipswich, before bringing everything back to Bury St. Edmunds for sorting and then off to Felixstowe for shipment to Ukraine. 

“It’s wonderful that the N2S family was able to play a small part in the collection, but the real credit must go to Gina, to the GeeWizz charity and to the selfless people that worked 18 hour shifts to get everything sorted and packed for the people that need it.”

Gina Long, founder of the GeeWizz charity, said:

“This week alone, I have witnessed the greatness of humanity, against all odds. I’d like to give special thanks to Jack, his family and N2S after they came to the rescue of GeeWizz’s Humanitarian aid operation.

“What started as a cry for help to support my brother Oliver Horsman’s Ukraine aid effort of driving three transit vans to the Romanian-Ukraine border, and an Instagram post by my daughter Ali on her FOLK Café Instagram, snowballed into support from hundreds of wonderful selfless volunteers and donations escalating to fill three vans, fourteen 40ft curtain-side lorries, three sprinter vans and three 7.5 tonne lorries, far exceeding our expectations. 

“The love, humility, and unity have been tangible on every level. Jack is so humble; he has no idea of the enormous difference he has made.

“It’s been a life changing week, one I wish didn’t have such a terrible reason to happen. Andrew and I will forever be grateful to have shared it with many like-minded new friends. My sister, brother and brother-in-law are safely on their way home, having delivered everything to Ukraine as promised.”

GeeWizz is a registered charity (number 1164353), and is based at Hall Farm, Fornham St. Martin, Bury St. Edmunds. To donate to the GeeWizz Ukraine appeal, visit geewizzcharity.com 

To find out more about the GeeWizz humanitarian effort, please check out the following people via Instagram:

@geewizzcharity @ginalong_geewizz @oliverhorsman @lizhorsman @itsmikespencer @ashtons_legal @coastlinegraphics @croasdales_chemist @folk.cafe @hallfarmfornham @carlday66 @bactontransport @penelopewhiteuk 

We stand with Ukraine. 

Andrew Noel Brown, Head of Sustainability Solutions at N2S has been selected to join techUK’s Climate Strategy and Resilience Council.

Andrew Noel BrownAndrew (pictured left) joins 28 other members of the industry-leading group, which will play a crucial role in setting the strategic direction of techUK’s climate programme, focussing on the role the tech sector plays in the transition to net zero and opportunities for the sector to help decarbonisation in other industries.

TechUK is a membership trade association which brings together people, companies and organisations, by creating a network for innovation and collaboration across business, government and stakeholders. It aims to provide a better future for people, society, the economy and the planet.

Craig Melson - techUKCraig Melson (pictured right), associate director, Climate, Environment and Sustainability said, “The Climate Strategy and Resilience Council has a highly important role in setting the direction for tech firms in implementing their net zero targets in 2022 – and we are anticipating some significant forthcoming policy developments in this area too.

“As the council was about to embark on a new two-year fixed term, we took the opportunity to expand the group to 29 members to ensure the broadest possible range of our membership was represented. This a group of high-profile industry leaders and I am really looking forward to working with them to shape the sector’s preparations for future climate change.

The new council, which starts in January 2022, comprises sustainability leads from a range of high-profile organisations such as BT, Hitachi, Microsoft, BAE systems, IBM, Atos, Cisco, Fujitsu Deloitte, KPMG and HP, to name but a few!

Andrew Brown said, “E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world and the tech industry has a really important role to play in addressing how this is dealt with, both within our own sector and that of others.

“The race to achieving net zero emissions demands a more sustainable and circular approach. This is something that N2S advocates in our own processes and innovations and I would like to drive this approach forward in my role on the council to help enterprise and industry bring positive outcomes to climate change.”

More information on techUK and its work in championing technology’s role in preparing and empowering the UK for what comes next, is available on the website www.techuk.org

For over two decades, N2s has been pioneering solutions that deal with end-of-life technology equipment, offering fully transparent, end-to-end sustainable and environmental IT recycling solutions. People can sign up to hear more about N2S at www.n2s.uk or visit the website www.n2s.co.uk