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Set to light up future
Maisha Frost reports on an attempt to bring energy back to the North-west Reproduced from the Daily Express, March 18th 2009
There's just one item on inventor Morton Graham's to-do list this spring - find a company with £10million that can open a UK factory producing his revolutionary energy-saving lighting system.
"Our technology can replace all current lighting, both commercial and domestic - whether it's conventional incandescent, fluorescent, or halogen - and reduce national energy consumption by more than 60 per cent," states the 69-year-old scientist, an expert in LED illumination, commonly seen in screens and displays.
Through his enterprise Luminanz, Graham has taken this low-carbon lighting breakthrough into a new era, he says, principally by boosting its power and versatility. Although known for its efficiency, LEDs central problem has been the weakness of the light itself, limiting wider application.
"But through our developments we can offer LED that is as strong as other forms, varied and highly durable, while delivering vast energy savings. It can be new or retro-fitted, it is easy to make and recycle and National Grid compatible. It's an all-rounder, perfect for the low-carbon society we have to become," said Graham.
Now with £150,000 of patent protection in place to ward off predators, Graham confirms with relief: "We are just past proof of concept." Trials with outlets in Manchester Airport are under way. "The struggle for Luminanz now is about achieving full commercialisation," says physicist Dr Neil Haigh, 46, the firm's technical director.
The company has six product types, including pathway lighting and the indoor TorusLite for homes. High volume manufacture would reduce the £20-£50 fitting costs to £12, with 50,000 hours of use before replacement, and no disposal problems.
Haigh believes Luminanz's products will be regarded in the same way as other technological advances such as the iPod. "It may be slightly more expensive on price comparison, but the extra performance and savings will make people want it. Nobody wants a clunky, old-style TV, however cheap, now the flat screens are affordable."
Factories in the Far East are champing at the bit for Luminanz's business, and Graham and Haigh are about to sign a deal to outsource signage production. But they also have a parallel strategy.
This involves a wish that goes straight to what drives Graham and his younger colleague. Luminanz is based in Bolton, right at the heart of the North-west. This area was the cradle of LED technology more than a century ago, that led to the flourishing of Ferranti before others took up the ideas and developed them more profitably in America and other countries.
"But that history has left us with a knowledge and skills base that still exists," continues Graham. To peg costs he has run Luminanz as a virtual firm, collaborating with engineers and scientists at nearby UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) - as well as the National Physical Laboratory.
"Our desire is to see lighting manufacturing take its rightful place again in the North-west," says Graham. "We want to open a factory and create 250 jobs. Our process is easier than bulb manufacture as it involves mainly plastics and aluminium. There is the space here and certainly the labour."
But the far-reaching radical implications of its innovations have left the firm in the classic innovator position - alone and looking for the right wealthy partner.
"Multinational conventional lighting manufacturers are certainly not interested in a competitor system at the moment, however small, that requires different production techniques to what they have," explains Graham.
He did strike a production deal with state-funded disability employer Remploy, but that fell by the wayside when the Government cut back on funding and closed some of the workshops. "We have moved on, but it still grieves me what a big opportunity was lost for both us and Remploy workers," admits Graham.
"We will keep going down the UK track for another few months before reviewing our strategy, but the clock is ticking. My hope is the economic outlook has changed so much that we'll be taken more seriously on our home turf. Our products are recession-proof."
Getting to this stage has taken more than £500,000, much of it Graham's own money - the proceeds from a lifetime of being a serial entrepreneur and inventor. With true inventor passion he explains: "You get to a stage where what you have produced is so important it is impossible to pull out. Whatever the cost, you have to go on," he says.
And now there is the first vindication. Luminanz has just scooped the runner-up spot in this year's Shell Springboard Awards, for British small businesses with commercially viable climate-change innovations. The £40,000 prize will be spent on new tooling and marketing.
"Recognition of this calibre is vital for our early-stage growth," says Graham, who is thinking of approaching Shell with a partnership proposal.