THE damaging effect of sewage in Windermere has inspired a Cumbrian entrepreneur to start a new business devoted to tackling the UK’s sludge problem.

The alleged discharge of raw sewage into Windermere has been blamed for causing harmful algal blooms during the summer.

It is a problem which caught the attention of entrepreneur Brian Scowcroft, owner of Carlisle’s Kingmoor Park Enterprise Zone and the man behind a number of successful ventures across the UK.

Two years ago, Brian gave staff at Mitchell Dryers, which he owned, the mission of developing a way to process sewage or sewage sludge - which is the semi-solid waste left over after the liquid and solid constituents of wastewater are separated by settling.

Mitchell Dryers went into liquidation last year, but not before chemical engineer James Meyer had developed a way to use its industrial drying expertise to process the waste.

A new company, Onunda - which is the old Norse name for Windermere - was subsequently set up with James as its chief technology officer. Another well-known name from Cumbrian business, Tom Samson, was appointed as CEO. 

Tom says currently 90 per cent of the roughly one million tonnes of sludge produced in the UK every year ends up being spread on the land. Although this is legal, it causes environmental issues as the sludge contains micro-plastics, forever chemicals and pathogens as well as excessive nutrients which can also find their way into rivers and lakes.

The rest is incinerated, which comes with its own environmental concerns around air pollution.

"We had a team in Mitchell Dryers at the time that was designing and building gasifiers and dryers. Brian thought maybe there's a way we can use this technology to try and tackle this type of sewage pollution and try and turn the sewage problem into a source of value of energy and nutrients,” said Tom.

"James came up with this new integrated design using some of the gasification and dryer technologies that we had in Mitchell Dryers, together with some more innovative technology to create a new process, which tries to extract all the energy, nutrient and values from sewage sludge to create a better outcome where there's no material being discharged back to the environment.

"We are not claiming Onunda is the solution to the problems in Windermere but it is where the inspiration for change came from.”