University of Exeter Engineering Students Win First Prize in Engineers in Business Competition for Washing Machine Filter Designed to Prevent Microplastics Entering Water Systems

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The PETexe Team from the University of Exeter has been ‘crowned’ Start Up Business Champion of Champions in the Engineers in Business Competition 2020. The competition pits teams of university engineering students against each other to win seed funding to progress their business innovations. The PETexe team’s innovation is a washing machine filter that traps microplastics that are released from synthetic clothing during the machine washing process preventing the plastic from entering water systems. The team has won £3,000, mentoring from a Sainsbury Management Fellow, CV packages from Purple CV and Business Suport from IPSE.

Mechanical Engineer, Jonathan Elliott which led the team explained the idea behind the washing machine filter: “Plastic is a problem in many areas of society, in some areas it can be recycled and reused but in others, it ends up accumulating in nature or in landfill. Bacteria and enzyme research have meant that for the last few years we have been able to break down plastic, fully degrading it, but this process is too slow for most applications. However, we thought that the unique aspect ratios and size of microplastics mean that this technology becomes viable again. After testing we showed that this was possible and have been working on making it a viable product. With legislation in France meaning that by 2025 all-new washing machines will require a microplastic filter built-in, we hope that we can use our connections in the home appliance sector to develop our technology for wider use, resulting in a significant reduction of microplastic waste.”

Commenting on the team’s success in the Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Final Jonathan said: “We are thrilled! We have put a lot of hard work into both PETexe and the competition, so it’s great to have such an amazing achievement to show for it. This is a great moment for the whole team and the prize will go a long way to helping us realise our ambitions. We are also thankful for all the support we have received along the way, particularly from the University of Exeter Student Start-Up Team.”

The Engineers in Business Competition, which awarded the prize, is unique. It provides prize funds that are integrated into each partner university’s existing offering. The undergraduates and postgraduates who take part and win an Engineers in Business prize in their university competitions can then enter the EIBC Champion of Champions Final for a chance to win further seed funding. The PETexe team is one of these inspiring winners.

The EIBC prize fund is provided by Engineers in Business Fellowship whose patron is Lord Sainsbury of Turville. EIBF’s President, David Falzani MBE, explained the rationale for awarding universities £700,000 over four years to integrate into their business ideas competitions: “Research tells us that introducing business education to young engineers and technologists makes them better engineers, makes them more employable, more effective in the workplace and it’s better for the UK economy. What is exceptional about the young engineers and technologists who are engaging with business innovation is that they are developing concepts while in education and many go on to develop real businesses that tackle problems in society. They are bringing new technologies to people and will create jobs. We are delighted for PETexe and look forward to seeing how the product develops.”