Irish Examiner – All Eyes on the Big Picture

Irish Examiner – 28th November 2011

All Eyes on the Big Picture – Trish Dromey

Dr Lisa O’Donoghue has developed an LCD screen-recycling machine which can recycle 80 LCD screens in an hour and is the first of its type in the world.

LIMERICK start-up company Votechnik plans to dominate the European market with its LCD screen-recycling technology within two years. After that, it will move on to the rest of the world, starting with Japan and Korea. The plans might seem a little ambitious for a company that has yet to go to the market — but for the fact that it is offering the world’s first automated machine for recycling LCD screens.

At present, recycling companies all over Europe are stockpiling waste LCD screens, awaiting the arrival of technology which will allow them to be recycled efficiently. This has been happening since 2003, when the EU made LCD recycling mandatory. Given the enormous demand for this innovative technology, automated LCD recycling is anticipated to have a minimum turnover of €54 million by 2016. LCD screens came into use in the late 1990s and are now dominating the market. Company chief executive and founder Dr Lisa O’Donoghue says 190 million screens were sold worldwide in 2010 and the European sales figure alone is set to hit 85 million by 2015. At present the only way to recycle LCD units is manually. “Only three or four screens can be recycled in an hour. It is labour-intensive and dangerous, since it requires the removal of liquid crystal and a mercury component which are harmful to the environment,’’ she says.

The launch of Votechnik’s automated machine, which can recycle 80 screens an hour, is scheduled for next summer. Dr. O’Donoghue says that with growing stockpiles of waste LCD screens, recycling companies all over Europe have responded very positively. “We will start by saturating the market in Europe and then we will move on to develop sales in Korea and Japan and within four or five years we plan to start selling in the US and Australia,” she said. Although some research is being carried out into this type of technology by recycling companies in other countries, she says the company has first-mover advantage and intends to make the most of it.

Developed at the University of Limerick over the last four years, Votechnik’s technology has been patented in Ireland and is also being patented worldwide. Dr O’Donoghue says it could be a few years before any potential competitor could be ready for market. In 2009 Dr O’Donoghue identified a need for this type of technology and set up a research team at the University of Limerick, securing €350,000 in funding from the EPA. Setting up the company with an office at the University of Limerick and the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre in Limerick in June this year, she licensed the technology from the University of Limerick. Participating in the LEAP Enterprise Platform programme at Limerick Institute of Technology, the company secured funding from Enterprise Ireland and won the High Growth award for the Munster region in the Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn competition.

The company, which employs a staff of three, is now finalising the market-ready machine, as well as fundraising and developing a sales strategy for Europe. Britain, Germany and France have been identified as the key target markets for 2012. The company is also completing negotiations with a company in Ireland which will manufacture the recycling machines.

Dr O’Donoghue says that manufacturing in Ireland will ensure that the company maintains control over the process and guarantees quality. Funded since this summer by Dr O’Donoghue, the company is now planning to raise in excess of half a million euro to fund the product’s roll-out.

“Winning the high growth award for Munster in the Seedcorn competition has been a major boost. “The venture capital companies are now inviting us to submit applications instead of us having to approach them,’’ adds Dr O’Donoghue.