NESL founders and directors Mark Davey and Mark Hodges
Chloe Shakesby

Going green: the North East SME chosen to help make the RAF environmentally friendly

Winning a research and development contract from the Ministry of Defence is no small feat - and it’s even more significant for a North East SME.

Northern Engineering Solutions Ltd (NESL), based in North Shields, has been up and running for 12 years, headed by founders and directors Mark Davey and Mark Hodges.

Having worked across various industrial sectors, the 16-strong team might not be the first engineering firm to come to mind, but it’s just won a significant Ministry of Defence research and development contract.

The project - based on recycling the oil waste that the RAF produces - is something NESL is ready to get its teeth into, having already worked on similar projects.

“We’ve worked with CPI Wilton to develop digestion plants, which was quite challenging but rewarding,” commented Mark Hodges.

“I think our experience and track record in the field is what gave us the edge when it came to the Ministry of Defence – and that we’d already successfully designed and delivered other projects working with microorganisms, in largescale and packaged formats.”

“NESL is really proud to have been selected - we have a wealth of experience in treatment systems, but more importantly, we are a North East engineering SME.”

The company started off with just the entrepreneurial duo in 2008, and they have since grown the business to be a highly regarded North East company.

NESL collaborated with Northumbria University for its pitch, and the team was one of only four awarded a contract for the project.

It is the only business to have been successful, being awarded the largest budget worth £330K.

The other organisations working on the project are purely academic - the University of Sheffield, University College London, and Liverpool John Moores University.

The project brief is to turn waste hydrocarbons into recyclable by-products such as water, organic residue for fertilisers, and CO2 capture.

The contract was awarded through the MOD’s innovation hub, the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) which ran a competition in conjunction with the RAF to find innovative solutions to recycle military waste oils and speed up their development. The competition was funded through the Defence Innovation Fund, administered by the Defence Innovation Unit.

NESL’s proposal is to use microorganisms to break down the hydrocarbons in the waste that the RAF aircraft produce, which are otherwise not biodegradable and costly to dispose of.

The 12-month project involves building a lab-scale treatment plant of the process.

Mark Davey, director of NESL, spoke about what the project means for the company: “Projects like this support our growth plan, and one full time position has already been created, which is fantastic.”

“We’re extremely excited to carry this through and future development for this and other projects is very strong.”

“Being chosen for this research underlines the capabilities of our team, the strength of the business, and is an excellent boost to open other doors and opportunities.”

NESL travelled to Dstl Porton Down for the inaugural kick-off meeting where they had the opportunity to meet all of the operational and scientific key stakeholders in the RAF project.

“The Ministry recognising an SME from the North East is significant. Traditionally, the North East has had a long history of engineering innovation, and we are proud to be playing a role in maintaining and growing that reputation going forward,” commented Simon Taylor, NESL’s project consultant.

Mark Hodges agreed, talking about the impact of the company’s success on the region.

“The trust of the Ministry has really confirmed our belief in what we do, and we’re over the moon to have been successful.”

As well as boosting the company’s profile, the new contract gives the team the opportunity to play an active role in supporting the MOD in tackling environmental issues.

“It’s really encouraging that the RAF is taking positive steps to address the issues of carbon footprint in their activities, and we’re proud to be a part of that progress,” said Simon Taylor.

Defence minister James Heappey commented on the project at the unveiling of the winners: “Climate change is one of the greatest threats we face.

“Working with scientists and innovators, we are determined to lead the way in decarbonising defence.”

With a government contract under their belt, the directors are optimistic about the company’s future and its potential to generate growth in the region.

Mark Davey concluded: “The future is looking very positive, we’re really excited to be working with the RAF on this project.”

“Hopefully this contract can bring more attention to the talent and skills that the North East has to offer.”

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