Green Element Weekly Podcast Interview with Ifeyinwa Kanu, Founder of Intellidigest

Ifeyinwa Kanu, founder of IntelliDigest. 

Food waste and plastic waste are two global challenges attracting a worldwide concern. IntelliDigest is developing the world’s first intelligent, kitchen fitted and automated bio-upcycler (IntelliAD). IntelliAD could be deployed locally in food waste ‘hot spots’ such as restaurants, hospitals and schools. IntelliAD will take unavoidable food waste and convert it to high-quality bioresources that displaces the need for plastics hereby providing convenience, money saving and evidenced regulatory compliance to users.

Highlights:

  • challenge of waste treatment
  • small scale anaerobic food digester for onsite waste treatment
  • turning food waste into biodegradable packaging
  • changing behaviour towards waste

Useful link:

IntelliDigest

Ifeyinwa Kanu’s Linkedin

Full Transcript:

[0:00] Will: So, Ifey, thank you so much for coming on the Green Element podcast, and I’m really looking forward to today, we met on the RBS Accelerator Program, actually. And we are chatting about what it is that you do, and how you do it and how you’re going to change the world. And you’ve designed a product that turns food waste into a product with no residue, and its– I’ve followed the patterns and it’s completely novel and new and really good. And it’s exactly what we need in so much of the hospitality industry. So, let’s talk about that and let’s talk about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. 

[00:57] Ifey: So, yeah, thank you very much, Will, this introduction, so, well, I love the environment and I’m really passionate about providing solutions to environmental challenges. At start, my first degree in civil engineering, and my first job was in a treatment company, that exposed me to environmental challenges. And since then, I’ve got a passion to really work towards, you know, providing a global solution to most of the environmental challenges that we have. That passion has been in me, and I never knew how I could do it until when I went to do my master’s in environmental engineering, and I was working with one of the waste water treatment companies, I saw firsthand, you know, what challenges they face in the treatment processes. 

[01:56] Ifey: And so, my master’s was looking at retrofitting acts for these processes, for energy efficiency. And in the process, I witnessed challenges they have with waste treatment, the movement of waste from places to energy site, and the challenges they have with processing this waste. And luckily for me, I had a distinction in my masters, and I was given a scholarship to do my PhD. And I felt, you know, this is the time for me to really do what I’ve loved to do and look at how I could solve that problem of waste management and in life skill and anaerobic processes. And so that’s how I went into doing my PhD in environmental engineering. My PhD was more like looking into advanced biological investigation and artificial intelligence to optimize such processes. And this is how it come about–

[2:43]Will: Sorry, what do you mean by that? You’re talking to a complete novice here, so what are the processes? I didn’t even catch what you said. So, what sort of processes were you looking at? I’m trying to understand, yeah, where you came from, and the backgrounds.

[3:03] Ifey: Okay, so, when I took my master’s, that was actually just launch, so most of the time, and when we use our waste water, in the toiletries, in the kitchen, it goes down the drain, it flows down to centers, where it is pointing to the final treatment plant, where it is now processed. So, there’s a lot of energy requirement in delivering these processes. And what I was doing, what I did, was to try to see how we can optimize, you know, the energy requirements for, you know, kind of activist launch process we use in the UK. And so, when I did that, I moved on to look at anaerobic process, so the activist launch process and aerobic process and increased a lot biomass in the system, which is key for the treatment in the anaerobic process. And in anaerobic process is without oxygen that you get microorganisms to treat this waste, and then converted to bio-gas, and this bio-gas is used to part most of the treatment class.

[04:05] Ifey: It is kind of a circle up process to make the waste movement process more efficient. But the issue is that because of the variability in the microbial composition, inside this single unit, it needs to have more causes and preservation by the system doesn’t work very well. And you have things that are familiar, by the system gradually blew up, and then you know, overflow of the digested content. So, what was the word my PhD was trying to look, understand what is causing it. So, we did a vast biological investigation process, like omics analysis, and then model processes to make a system more efficient. So, that is a summary of what I was talking about.

[4:57]Will: So, in a nutshell, before you came along, systems like this blew up, and now you’ve made a system that is really efficient, doesn’t blow up, and works really well?

[5:12] Ifey: Exactly. So– Yeah, thank you very much 05:18 [inaudible] black box system with different microorganisms doing different things, what we’ve done now is just put those processes, and then provide the microorganisms, rather than using microorganisms, we use different processes, but still achieve the same output. Then we use a specific microorganism that we can optimize the process and prevent all those things from happening. The good thing about it is that you can now decide what you want from the output, you know, from inputs. So, you don’t have to wait for the outputs to know what you get from the system, which is kind of a complete, game changing.

[5:55]Will: And that’s where you, I mean, you talk about plastic turning your food waste into plastic packaging, I’m assuming you don’t really mean plastic packaging, but you mean packaging. So, food-

[6:12] Ifey: Yeah, so what that means is that we don’t need a new kind of bio material that can be used in place of plastic, then these materials are completely biodegradable, So, they don’t cost, you know, environmental arm like plastic. They only way to go about it is you know, I mean, the EU is targeting, you know, increasing the amount of biodegradable materials in plastic at the moment, the system bio-plastics are not biodegradable, they can only be composted in large scale treatment facilities. Replication of that, is that if you don’t get them into those large care treatment facilities, they cause the same challenge with resistant plastic, so that’s where we bring a difference, you know, something that’s completely biodegradable, resistant plastic, and it reduces content of environmental pollution.

[7:08]Will: Yeah, I mean, that when you were talking to Sarah and I, and I mean, Sarah’s background is working for a waste company and I think that’s what got her so excited, was, you are delivering a system that doesn’t exacerbate the problem, it reduces it, where there are a number of organizations in the UK that are producing ‘biodegradable’, in inverted commas, material, but actually has its own waste stream, because it cannot go into any other way stream, which does not make any sense. Do you have, I mean, do you have any competitors out there? Do you have anyone that’s doing this? Or are you unique?

[7:55] Ifey: Well, there are two current technology springing up because of the environmental challenge we have, and what one of them is actually, you know, delivering the kind of value we deliver through our process, so we have a couple of them in the market, but they use aerobic processes. So, they have the waste and send it down the drain and we also have some people that try to compact t fit waste and then you know, the nutrient info is sent down the drain. The only big problem with this is a fat back issue. So, what happens is that when this waste water is hydrolyzed or just comprised, goes down the drain, the fat content congeals and then it blocks most of the sewer. And most of the, you know, operators of waste water treatment are having a huge problem trying to treat, you know, the kind of fats you send down the drain, even from high schools, from hotels and restaurants, there is so much of our oil and fat that are sent down the drain.

[09:02] Ifey: The blocker sewers, they cost more problem for 09:05 [inaudible], you know, we can do more with these fats, than to send them down the drain, it could generate so much for you and it could solve a lot of problem we have with plastics.

[9:17]WillI mean, that’s brilliant. You’re solving a really good problem. And I’ve been working in this industry for a long time now and it’s just brilliant. I was looking at your calculator, because you’ve got really cool calculator on your website, helps you understand how much waste you need in order to, you know, produce enough that will pay for itself, for example. And I think that’s a really useful way of finding out more about what it is that you’re doing. So, if you do want to, the links will be on our podcast, to your websites, just go on to the website and have a look and try and work out what you’re doing. We work with a number of restaurants that we’re certainly going to be introducing this to and talking to them about. 

[10:13] Ifey: That would be great.

[10:15]WillAnd, we work with a lot of offices, and it was roughly 250 kilograms, 200 kilograms a day that made it cost viable. Obviously, different costs are viable within that, so it could be as low as 150, it could be possibly as high as 300. But you could combine a bunch of offices and to this, couldn’t you? Because a lot of the larger offices in London have their own catering services within them, so therefore, if you had one or two or three that have jumped together, someone could put it in their basement, and then they could work together on this, couldn’t they?

[11:00] Ifey: Yes, well, definitely, I mean, the key thing there is, people understand that the waste needs to get into this system as early as possible to get the best value from it. So, the more you leave the waste to deteriorate, the more you lose value for me. And that’s the reason why we say you know, this has to be as close as possible to, you know, the full list generator, whoever is generating the food waste to make the maximum value from it. Well, that’s possible.

[11:25]Will: Brilliant. And so, can I ask you, how, what got you interested in sustainability and the environment? What would you say your, do you have a tipping point? Do you have a part, a point in your life, you went, I’m going to become more environmental? Was it, childhood, something that went on there or, you know, at what point did you start getting more interested in sustainability?

[11:51] Ifey: I think for me, I mean, I’m a naturally environmental person, I get my most sanity when I’m in water, you know, like, being natural environment, probably walking through the coastal areas, or just looking over some water bodies. So, I’m a competent, naturally, environmental person. So, I’ve always, you know, loved the environment, just love being part of, you know, nature and environment. And, like I said, when I did my first work after condition, which was an interesting company, that was when I know, came into contact, directly with environmental challenges and began to think, you know, I’m not just going to love the environment, I’m going to do something better for the environment. Yeah, so for me, I think that was the tipping point for me.

[12:46]Will: I mean, you couldn’t really do much more for the environment than reduce waste and the bonuses, you’re stopping people using plastic as well. So, it’s kind of like a win win, it’s awesome. 

[12:56] Ifey: Yeah, it’s amazing.

[12:58]Will: And so, I guess this is this would lead me on to question, how do you feel that you can influence change through this?

[13:11] Ifey: I think it’s so fulfilling in the sense that I’ve got to work with very young, talented people who are so passionate about just working in the company, because of the impact, you know, the product is going to make an environment and the fact that after working with them, you know, they will come back and say, hi, how’s everything? You know, it means that they really enjoy the time they’ve been through the project, I think one of the first interns that worked with me, ended up working with the Scottish gas company because he’s now working in department that looks at, you know, getting more renewable gases into the creek. And this was just because he had this project with me. 

[14:03] Ifey: And, you know, it completely changed his mindset, and he spoke around words, you know, what impact of this is having the wrong way. And I think, I feel so pleased, when he came back to tell me that, you know, what I do really kind of had a lot of impact in my getting this job, and, you know, getting moving on in life and doing what I really love to do. And I think it’s not that a lot for most of the young people now and you know, their job doesn’t just deliver, you know, good money for them, but is making an impact in the environment, so, that’s just really it.

[14:24] Will: That’s brilliant, do you know Mike from top analytics

[14:45] Ifey: Do I?  

[14:31]Will: Do you know Michael Groves from Britain?

[14:34] Ifey: Yeah, I do.

[14:35]Will: Brilliant, right up your street and I bet you, he’s a firm advocate of yours, brilliant. What would you, what is it that you would like our listeners to do on the back of this podcast? You’re looking for investment at the moment, aren’t you? So, promoting what you’re doing?

[15:05] Ifey: Yeah. It’d be great, yes, for people to promote what we’re doing. But I think for the mindset of doing good for the environments, and, you know, just putting themselves out when they’ve got the opportunity to do it. And, yeah, I think that’s very important that, you know, we all join together in this journey, and then we’re able to deliver this change. So yeah, very happy, you know, to hear from people who really want to walk with us, who want invest to in us, I think from worth, also, we came to have customers who wants to use our product, we want to talk to them, once it’s done, you know, how they want to use it. And, you know, want it to be a part of our journey, and you know, to walk through with them. So, and that’s very important to us. 

[15:58] Ifey: And we want this, I think, for us as a business, well, our key unique selling point is how we’re changing people’s behavior. One of the challenges is this thing with treatment processes, take food waste away, and then do something else with it, or hydrolysis and send it down the drain, people don’t understand what’s going on. But what we do is that we offer people, a direct benefit, you know, people engaging with a process. And I think, for us, it’s about that change of behavior, people understanding what I’m generating is having this kind of impact. What should I be doing in the first place? So, it’s that behavior change that we’re looking at I think that’s our unique selling point, in terms of say, this is going to change behavior, this is going to change the way people look at waste and resources. So, yeah, it’s just having that, people have a hand with their waste of resource, it’s a completely secular process. So, I hope–

[17:08]Will: It seems that your internet connection is going wrong. Do you mind to stop video? Yeah, I think that will probably be better.

[17:24] Ifey: Okay, yeah. So, I think yeah, so it’s about the change of behavior, and people understand it, you know, contrary to the secularity, more conveniently and more efficiently.

[17:37]Will: And I had a question for you, but the internet thing just stopped, stops me thinking about it. The packaging, that’s right, so your product produces these plastic equivalents at the end of it? Would you be able to sell that on? And is that within the equations that you have on the cost calculator?

[18:08] Ifey: No, that’s not inclusive in the cost calculator. The biochemical rate is not inclusive in the cost calculator, sir. And so, the cost calculator when we did it, is more focused on the bio-gas generation and further discussing with customers has brought up the idea of what we can do with the biochemicals, and how we can optimize the processes to be able to use that biochemical to do something else. So, yes, so that’s the new phase of the project that we’re developing.

[18:40]WillYeah, because what could happen is, you’d end up with this material that you wouldn’t know what to do with, really, and I guess it’s getting it back into the supply chain. And maybe, you know, you guys picking it up and signing it, putting it into one big and then selling it on for customers today.

[19:09] Ifey: So, not going to much detail about it, we could offer the customer the opportunities onsite, or use it offers, collect it and use it to produce other material. Yeah, that’s what we’re looking at.

[19:25] Will: Okay, brilliant. Well, thank you so much for today and thank you for coming on and talking to us about your products. I can’t wait to see your journey and just to see where you’re going with it and where you end up, hopefully in every single restaurant.

[19:48] Ifey: Exactly. We’re looking, hopefully in the future, to be in unkept sites. So, and it could more for the environment. Yeah, sure, definitely 

[9:59]WillBrilliant, Ifey, thank you so much for today, thank you.

[20:04] Ifey: Well, cheers, bye.

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