Roslin company plants success

Social entrepreneur John Ferguson, from Midlothian company Sisaltech.
Social entrepreneur John Ferguson, from Midlothian company Sisaltech.

Roslin company Sisaltech has launched an innovative plant-based thermal insulation product made from the sisal plant grown in east Africa.

The 100 per cent natural and biodegradable sisal plant is expected to generate a turnover of £250,000 in year one and create three jobs, thanks to ongoing support from organisations including Business Gateway Midlothian.

Whilst working in Malawi training farmers on coping with climate change, social entrepreneur John Ferguson, who has an MSc in Tropical Agricultural Development, researched ways sisal could be used to create products he could manufacture and allow him to plough funds back into helping small-scale farmers in Tanzania. As part of his research with sisal producers, John began experimenting with processing sisal, previously used to make ropes and sacks, to assess its viability to create everything from ‘bags for life’ and composites for kayaks to geotextiles for erosion control, embankment stabilisation and peatland restoration.

In his final stages of research it became apparent that the fibre from the sisal plants could be used to produce a sustainable and natural insulation product, which would be safe for installers to use. Sisaltech, based at Midlothian Innovation Centre, is in discussion with various suppliers, in particular housebuilders, including Carbon Dynamic and John Gilbert Architects.

John said: “Having worked with small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa I felt motivated to start an ethical business that would help them trade their way out of poverty.

“As we experimented and started prototyping I was really excited to discover that sisal can be used to make a great insulation product, particularly when blending with other recycled textile fibres.

“It means that my business is able to have a great environmental impact as well as a great social impact.

“I am very grateful for all the support I’ve received so far to help get the business up and running, particularly from Business Gateway Midlothian who have helped me tremendously every step of the way, particularly in areas including digital support and ongoing one-to-one advice.”

The support from Business Gateway Midlothian also includes a Digital Boost grant to help the company develop its online presence.

Ann Marie Macaskill, head of Business Gateway Midlothian, said: “It has been great learning more of Sisaltech’s opportunities to provide sustainable and ethical solutions to insulation in this country and beyond.

“As we look towards becoming a low carbon economy, I am delighted we have been able to support this local company’s ambition and development which has global impact.”