29 Dec 2006
Innovations(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 01,2007)
Dunwell Enviro-Tech (Holdings) Ltd
Cleaning used lubricants has become a golden business opportunity for farsighted entrepreneur Daniel M. Cheng and his award-winning company Dunwell Enviro-Tech (Holdings) Ltd.
Cheng, the company's managing director, had taken just five years to grow his family's small trading firm to become the world's largest manufacturer of stainless steel components for videocassettes, with almost 50% of the global market in the 1980s.
However, by the early 1990s it had become clear that disk storage formats would soon replace tape and a change of direction was required.
"We were looking for the next opportunity, and I identified environmental protection as a good area," states Cheng.
The opportunity to acquire a used lubricant refinery arose in 1993, but it quickly became apparent that the US$10m processing system was far less efficient than Cheng and his associates had hoped.
"There were a lot of limitations in terms of the technology, which required heating the oil to a very high temperature of 350蚓," he explains. "We looked for alternative solutions and kept researching different technologies around the world before realising that membrane filtration could be an ideal method."
Unfortunately, however, the dirty, viscous oil contained lots of heavy metals and soot that fouled all the membranes Dunwell tried to employ.
"We finally found a vibrating membrane system in the US that was being used for water treatment applications and chemical recovery," recalls associate director, business development Victor Li.
Cheng convinced the US owners that their intellectual property rights would be protected, and that further development of new applications for waste oil and other polluted liquids could be handled far more cost-effectively in Hong Kong than in North America.
Work began in earnest in 2000, and three years later the first commercial vibrating membrane system in the world for used oil recycling had been developed.
Dunwell's Vibratory Membrane Advanced Treatment (VMAT) produces zero secondary pollution while its low operating temperature provides "much lower" operating costs and better energy efficiency.
VMAT filters the oil using high-frequency vibrations, which produce a sinusoidal shear force 10 times stronger than traditional membrane methods to provide fuels and lubricants from waste.
After the VMAT filtering process, the permeate or clean portion can be sold as blending oil for lubricants immediately or undergo wiped film evaporation, which distillates the oil and condenses it as base oil.
The high-quality base oil that results can be used to blend different high-quality lubricating products, such as the hydraulic oil, motor oil, metal cutting fluids and mould-release agents that Dunwell has been supplying to the Hong Kong government since 2003.
The technology was developed to overcome the problem of oil-fouled membranes, but can also be used for its original application of waste water treatment or even processing animal waste water.
The Dunwell Group now operates the only waste oil recycling facility in Hong Kong and resells the oil in Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asian countries, but is increasingly focused on transferring the VMAT technology it has developed to different oil recyclers worldwide.
"Clients immediately see the value when they see our technology," Li avers. "It's so simple and flexible, and most important of all it allows them to achieve a return on investment in less than two years, which is very rare in terms of technology commitment."
Customers include the US partner that provided the original technology, while Dunwell is close to closing deals in Indonesia and the UK and is also talking to recyclers in Japan, the Middle East, Southeast Asian countries and on the Chinese mainland.
"The Beijing government was looking for a solution to its waste oil problem, particularly in view of the 2008 Olympics," Li says, proudly noting that VMAT has been adopted as the preferred recycling technology for a "green" 2008 Olympics.
Another source of pride is the Grand Award in the Machinery And Equipment Design category in the 2005 Hong Kong Awards For Industries that Dunwell recently won.
In October 2006, Dunwell became the first Hong Kong company in the 13-year history of the UK Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) awards to receive the IChemE ABB Engineering Services Environment Award.
Competing against global giants such as Alstom, Atkins/Krystallon/ BP Marine, AstraZeneca, Gulf Petrochemical Industries and Shell Global Solutions, Dunwell's simple yet innovative VMAT approach won the judges' vote.
Later the same month, Dunwell's VMAT received the bronze medal in the Asian Innovation Award organised by The Wall Street Journal.
Out of the 220-plus applicants in Asia, Dunwell was the only winner with environmentally-friendly and financially-sustainable technology that offered a low-cost alternative to other countries worldwide.
Obviously, Dunwell is well on the way to achieving its aim of becoming one of the leading environmental enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region.
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Dunwell Enviro-Tech (Holdings) Ltd
8 Wang Lee St,
Yuen Long Industrial Estate,
Yuen Long, New Territories,