Surrey start-up Gas Recovery & Recycle Ltd ( GR2L) has had its hopes of success inflated by a £4 million deal struck to export its breakthrough argon-recovery technology to builders of a gigawatt solar panel factory in India.
Britain’s state-backed trade guarantors UK Export Finance stood behind the Salfords, Redhill firm, as it sought to market the world’s first ever technology for distributed recycling of argon.
The inert gas, one of chemistry’s supposed noble fluids, is colourless, odourless, tasteless and non-flammable. More interestingly argon is a brilliant catalyst, and thus critical to the manufacture of solar cells.
Cell makers use argon gas to purify silicon, the feedstock heated to produce ingots later sliced into cell wafers. Conventional processes use vast amounts of argon, with some producers needing to ship in many tankers of the gas every day for use only once.
GR2L positions its ArgonØ technique as a world’s first. The kit allows cell producers to recycle up to 95% of the argon they use.
Argon capture and re-use are boons too to other advanced manufacturing, such as microelectronics, 3D metals printing and heat-treating clever widgets for planes, satellites and rockets.
GR2L founder Rob Grant learned of a chance to supply his recycling know-how to backers of a vast PV panel factory, slated for construction in Gujarat, western India.
With yearly panel output planned to rise this decade to 2 GW, Mundra Solar Technology is to be located on the Mundra Solar Techno Park, a coastal development between Mumbai and Pakistan. Backers include Gujurat’s tax-exempt Special Economic Zone and port operators Adani.
To secure the order, the Surrey SME faced a financing conundrum. To seal the deal, it had guarantee to assure the buyer that it could deliver, a commitment likely to have meant putting cash on ice, via a surety deposit at its bank, Lloyds. But that would have drained off the development funds GR2L needed to equip a production line to deliver the very same order which it wanted to secure.
A £475,000 guarantee issued under UKEF’s Bond Support Scheme resolved the would-be exporter’s Catch 22. The bond offsets that part of GR2L deposit, allowing it to devote funds towards delivering for the Mundra venture.
Grant commented: “With brand-new argon creating up to a tonne of carbon dioxide for every tonne of produced gas, our cutting-edge recycling technology helps solar panel factories reduce their scope 3 CO2 emissions.
“Building on our existing export successes, support from Lloyds and UKEF helped us to secure this latest opportunity and develop our established international presence. I look forward to commissioning our machinery by the end of 2023.”
Colin Walls, Lloyd’s regional director for trade & working capital, said: “GR2L is exactly the type of business we want to see thriving.
As a bank, it’s fantastic to see the exporting ambitions of this firm grow with the support which we can offer alongside UKEF’s through our Working Capital facility. Their contract with Mundra Solar Technology Ltd is testament to that.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak was last weekend in Delhi with G20 heads of government. Brexit can be assumed to have no impact either in easing or obstructing GR2L’s deal.