Scottish firm wins backing for eco-friendly solution to water pollution

An innovative Scottish business that uses eco-friendly solutions to clean up environmental contamination has become the first social enterprise in Scotland to secure investment from the state-backed Catalyst fund.

Social enterprise Sustainable Thinking Scotland (STS) was set up by entrepreneurs Sean Kerr and Stephen McQueen in 2016 to help tackle social and ecological issues in their local area of Bo’ness, West Lothian.

Now the firm has been awarded £190,000 to enable them to bring their biochar technology to market.

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Biochar is similar to charcoal, made by ‘baking’ waste wood and other biomass at high temperatures.

Stephen McQueen and Sean Kerr, founders of Sustainable Thinking Scotland, are using 'baked' wood product biochar to clean up water pollution and fertilise farm land. Picture: Open Aye
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It draws down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, storing it for hundreds to thousands of years.

It has several applications, but innovations by STS mean it can be used to soak up nutrient pollution that can lead to toxic algae blooms in rivers, streams and other water bodies.

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Once ‘charged’ with nutrients, the biochar is collected and can be added as a fertiliser to soil used for growing food crops.

STS director Sean Kerr said: “Our mission is to be Scotland’s leading organisation in the development and targeted application of biochar, driving innovation within water remediation technologies and land management, creating a circular economy model which benefits both our environment and the people within our communities.”

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STS will use the investment to speed up growth of its biochar project, increase production capacity and research and development work, as well as to employ staff and develop core business operations for the intended scale-up.

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The Catalyst fund, set up to help finance ambitious social enterprises in Scotland, is supported by the Scottish Government.

Its innovative funding mechanism means STS will repay the investment via a share of its revenue as the business grows.

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Scottish agency Firstport administers the fund win collaboration with Social Enterprise Scotland.

Daisy Ford-Downes, head of group investment programmes at Firstport, said: “Sean and Steve set a high bar for a new generation of ambitious, high-growth social enterprises serving people and planet.

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“They have developed an exciting new technology that simultaneously tackles pollution, captures carbon and increases crop yields for community food production, and we are looking forward to supporting them as they bring this to the market.”

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