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Social entrepreneur invents eco insulation after working in Africa



Midlothian company Sisaltech has launched a plant-based thermal insulation product made from a plant grown in east Africa.

The firm expects to generate a turnover of £250,000 in its first year one and create three jobs making the product which is 100% natural and biodegradable, as well as supporting small-scale farmers in Tanzania.

Social entrepreneur John Ferguson, from Edinburgh, came up with the idea while training farmers in Malawi to cope with climate change. He started researching ways in which the sisal plant could be used to create products such as kayaks and geotextiles. Sisal was previously used to make ropes and sacks. He realised the plants’ fibre could be used to produce a sustainable, safe and natural insulation product.

The sisal fibre is sun-dried and no water is required in the processing, which helps farmers to cope with the impact of climate change. It will provide an alternative to less sustainable plastic insulation fibres and Sisaltech  is is discussion with Robertson Homes, Carbon Dynamic and John Gilbert Architects.

Sisaltech has had support from Business Gateway Midlothian and a Digital Boost grant to help develop its online presence.  

Ferguson, who has an MSc in Tropical Agricultural Development, 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.

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“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 121 advice.”

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 Business Gateway Midlothian has been able to support this local company’s ambition and development which has global impact.”



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