Science park helps firms grow and innovate

Earlier this year Tees Business reported how companies based at the Wilton Centre – the North-East’s premier science park and home to more than 60 businesses with 750 employees – had successfully weathered the storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now there is further positive news to share as the return to work gathers pace amid growing evidence of a desire to make up for lost time.

“One occupier has signed a five-year extension to its lease,” said the Wilton Centre’s accommodation manager Claire Morton.

“Another has taken two more laboratories and two offices. Before lockdown a tenant also took an additional lab and is about to complete on an extra office,” she said.

“One of the many benefits we have is that there is plenty of room here. That means our occupiers – whether they employ five people or 50 – can grow and avoid the cost and disruption of a move.”

For Lucite International, which has nearly 100 staff and contractors based at the Wilton Centre, the combination of onsite laboratories and ample space provides the ideal infrastructure for it to carry out ground-breaking work.

It is basing a project team in a 1,000-sq ft office where it aims to perfect a process and design a plant to recycle acrylic, one of the world’s most useful plastics.

Acrylic was developed by ICI on Teesside in the 1930s. It is a polymer made from methyl methacrylate (MMA) and used in the manufacture of a multitude of products, including lighting, car number plates, signage, medical equipment and the protective “sneeze” screens which have been installed in buildings all over the world as a result of Covid-19.

“When they come to the end of their life there will be thousands and thousands of these screens and what do you do with them?” said David Smith, the circular economy programme lead for Lucite International, who is heading the project.

Until now, the answer for products made out of acrylic was to incinerate them, bury them in landfill or ship them to countries such as India where they would be partially recycled. Even then, though, there would only be one further use.

“What we’re looking to do is something very different,” said David. His team is working on a process Lucite is calling molecular recycling. It will reverse the production process of acrylic and purify the MMA, allowing the cycle to start again.

“This is exciting and seriously gamechanging. For Lucite it’s one of the biggest projects in years because if we get this right, we don’t just add value to the company, we potentially add value to the world because we’re cutting down on CO2 emissions and reducing landfill, for example. The benefits for everyone are incredible.”

Lucite has been based at the Wilton Centre for more than a quarter of a century. Lynas Engineers is a relative newcomer.

It moved there in 2017 to be based near potential customers and benefit from the flexible office space it provides.

“It’s an ideal location for companies just starting out, but hoping to grow,” said managing director Rob Lynas.

“There are lots of different types of offices here and a lot of room. We started with an office for two people and we’re now in our fourth.”

Lynas Engineers employs nine people and has just completed its biggest project – the £4m A66/A171 Cargo Fleet Junction improvement, known as the “throughabout”.

“Sometimes when you work for the big consultancies you don’t get such a feeling of ownership and satisfaction,” said Wayne Farrell, one of the company’s directors.

“It’s also demonstrated that even though we’re a small team we have enough experience and capability to deliver these larger schemes.”

For more information about the Wilton Centre visit wiltoncentre.com.