Interviewing Oriol Grau, winner of Cleantech Camp's first edition

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Oriol Grau, CEO TRC (Thermal Recycling of Composites): “Taking Part in CleanTech Camp Gave Our Project Considerable Momentum”

Oriol Grau is the CEO of TRC, the start-up that won last year’s first edition of CleanTech Camp Acceleration Program. A business studies graduate from the Open University of Catalonia, he also has an MBA from the EAE business school and prior to creating TRC worked in his family’s firm. His first experience as an entrepreneur involved creating a company together with his siblings.

What does your project involve?

We have developed R3FIBER, a disruptive technology that enables the treatment of reinforced glass and carbon fibre composites. R3FIBER obtains high-quality fibres, energy and fuels from waste composites.

How did the idea of creating TRC come about?

We had been developing and experimenting with the technology for a number of years and established the company twelve months ago when we felt the project was sufficiently mature and had successfully delivered on different phases. We are a spin-off of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), dedicated to the roll-out and exploitation of technologies for recycling waste composites.

Which sectors can benefit from your technology?

There are extensive possibilities. We focus strongly on the wind sector but are also working to implement the technology in other sectors, such as the automotive, aeronautical and maritime industries. The growth of wind energy production and the increasing need for the renewal of wind farms make the recycling of wind turbine blades a growing problem that needs to be solved sustainably. The growing consumption of carbon fibre and its increasingly widespread use in different sectors, particularly aeronautics, make it necessary to look at recovering it, too.

How was this material recycled previously?

These types of reinforced materials couldn’t be recycled because of the properties of their components (glass or carbon fibre, resins, epoxies, etc.). End-of-life composites were sent to landfill. That’s why managing emerging composite waste is considered a problem on a global scale. If we look at the wind sector, the WindEurope portal says there are nearly two million tonnes of composite waste stored in landfills today and the figure is expected to climb by around 40% in the coming years. 

Can the recycled material be reintroduced to the market?

This is one of our core goals, to generate a wheel that enables material treated for a particular sector to be reintroduced to that same sector. We treat wind turbine blades and other composites that have reached the end of their life so they can be recycled and reintroduced. The same happens with cars, ships and planes which increasingly use more fibreglass and carbon fibre. By recycling these materials you can remanufacture non-structural components such as car seats or door handles, for example.

What did it mean to you to take part in and win the highest recognition at the first CleanTech Camp?

It was hugely important and gave our project considerable momentum in many ways. Barcelona is known throughout the world for innovation and winning CleanTech Camp significantly powered our visibility, provided important economic support, let us access advice from InnoEnergy and gave us the chance to submit our European patent with maximum guarantees thanks to ZBM. With respect to programme monitoring, I particularly appreciate the way we were treated by the people from InnoEnergy, Barcelona Activa and Caixa Capital Risc, as well as the collaborating companies. The support received and confidence shown in projects is crucial for businesspeople in the early development phases. With the expertise of the tutors at CleanTech Camp we learnt a great deal about all the aspects an entrepreneur needs to take into account.

Finally, what phase are you at and what are your plans going forward?

In terms of technology we are at a scaling phase, i.e., we are starting to move out of our current pilot plant and into a larger pre-industrial one. At the strategic and commercial level, we are now working with major firms from different sectors with whom we are experimentally treating waste recycling and getting very good results. Finally, in terms of finance, we are in a capitalisation phase, forging contacts with investors in order to obtain the economic resources we need to continue to grow.