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Sustainability for textile production is pure Alchemie





When people talk about disrupting traditional industries, they usually refer to an industry a few decades, maybe a century old – but Alchemie Technology is disrupting the textile industry, whose production methods have remained unchanged for more than 200 years.

Dr Alan Hudd, founder of Alchemie Technology, with dyeing results. Picture: Richard Marsham
Dr Alan Hudd, founder of Alchemie Technology, with dyeing results. Picture: Richard Marsham

The cleantech manufacturing company, based at The Officers’ Mess in Duxford, is the brainchild of Dr Alan Hudd, whose textile dyeing innovation is already in use in eight countries.

“The problem was created 200 years ago in the mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire and the processes haven’t changed that much,” Dr Hudd explains. “The dyeing process involves fabrics such as cotton being steeped in a very big chamber of hot water, traditionally 130C, for four hours, and then to get rid of the excess dye you wash it in even hotter water – and you do that maybe five or even eight times.”

Dr Hudd offers a quick audit of the outcome in today’s parlance.

“Textiles contribute to 10 per cent of the Earth’s annual global warming, and dyeing is three per cent of that. And that three per cent is worth $110billion if it can be decarbonised.

“But everything in the textile industry is driven by the brands, and they sub-contract everything, they don’t make anything themselves. The brands are all talking about sustainability. Some are more serious than others, but they look at our technology, and they push the technology to their suppliers.

“The manufacturers come and purchase the equipment to sustain the interest of the brand.”

That interest is guaranteed because the figures are eye-popping.

“We’re decarbonising the process by 85 per cent and reducing water use by 95 per cent, but it’s all about the cost base – we can’t afford to charge a green premium. So the overall cost savings using our system is 50 per cent, because you’re using less water, less labour and less fabric.”

Alchemie Technology is based in Duxford. Pictured are members of the team checking the fabric for flaws. Picture: Richard Marsham
Alchemie Technology is based in Duxford. Pictured are members of the team checking the fabric for flaws. Picture: Richard Marsham

Dr Hudd started Alchemie in 2013. He had worked for the Ministry of Defence on its rocket propellants before founding and then selling another local company called Xennia, which revolutionised the way colour is printed on to tiles.

“I had been around the inkjet and digital printing sector for a very long time,” he says, “and was trying to find digital technology for various applications.

“The reason for setting Alchemie up was to find and create a digital technology more suitable for industrial applications than inkjet, which is great but very sophisticated and very expensive.

“Lots of apps didn’t need the sophistication of inkjet. We were looking at painting aircraft but once I saw the textile problem things became clear.”

That moment arrived in China, when he visited a textile factory as a consultant.

“I saw 50 or 60 dye houses in China, and if you go and look at the colour of the rivers and the conditions for the workers, and the pollution... After the consultancy in China, textile dyeing and finishing was identified as the sweet spot – and I put all the eggs in that one basket.

The Alchemie Technology team. Picture: Richard Marsham
The Alchemie Technology team. Picture: Richard Marsham

“The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on our planet, and the process of dyeing the clothes we wear is the most damaging part of clothing production. We are on a mission to change that.”

Today, Alchemie has two products on sale: Novara and Endeavour.

The Novara system is a low-energy, single-sided digital application system which applies functional finishes at up to 20 times the concentration of traditional processes, achieving 46 per cent energy saving and 52 per cent water reduction for polycotton durable water repellent fabric finishing with a more even application and higher quality.

The Endeavour is a waterless smart dyeing system which offers 85 per cent savings as part of its overall 50 per cent cost reduction. These machines weigh around 10 tonnes each and are made in Duxford.

“They are highly sophisticated, like inkjet printers, surrounded by rollers, so shipping is a big cost.

“We have eight customers across the globe,” Alan adds, “including Central America, Turkey, Taiwan, Scotland, India, Portugal and the Netherlands. They take four to six weeks to install and get up and running, plus there’s service contracts – some customers want total support, others have an in-house skill base to do the maintenance.

“We’ve deliberately reduced supply chain requirements so it’s off-the-shelf dyes from usual sources: the difference is we’re jetting in just the right amount of dye with no excess. Dye houses are starting to accept that a cleantech solution is optimal – and you can retro-fit our product into a traditional dyeing process.”

Environmentally friendly textiles produced by Alchemie Technology. Picture: Richard Marsham
Environmentally friendly textiles produced by Alchemie Technology. Picture: Richard Marsham

Alchemie’s two backers have already proved up for the fray: one is California-based venture capital fund At One Ventures, the other is H&M through its H&M Co:Lab venture capital arm.

“H&M is one of very few brands trying to proactively change the textile world,” Alan says. “They’re helping us to get into their supply chain, encouraging suppliers to use our technology.”

H&M Co:Lab got involved in a Series A funding round in 2021.

“We went into an A-round and let it be known we wanted to raise money,” says Alan. “They found us.”

A Series B fundraise is currently under way. “We’re in an advanced stage. The lead investors have been identified. We hope to close between October and December, we’re looking for £20 in equity and £5m in debt finance.”

The investment will boost the head count: Alchemie is currently adding another 25 staff to its existing team of 40.

“Getting the right people is really tough at the moment,” Alan remarks. “Especially in Cambridge where there are so many great companies. Engineers, software writers, chemists, marketing and sales – we need to reinforce what we have.

Dr Hudd with dyeing machine which is manufactured on-site. Picture: Richard Marsham
Dr Hudd with dyeing machine which is manufactured on-site. Picture: Richard Marsham

“We’re looking to take on 80 more people in the next year which is a massive challenge.”

Alchemie had a visit from South Cambs MP Anthony Browne earlier this month.

After the visit Mr Browne, who is also leader of the All-Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Environment, said: “Visiting Alchemie Technology’s base in Duxford was an eye-opening experience about the damaging impact of the textile industry on the environment.

“It was wonderful to see this exciting business apply brilliant science and engineering to solve one of the world’s pressing environmental problems.

“I am proud that Alchemie Technology has committed to the UK for its production, and I will be supporting them on their journey to revolutionise the textiles industry.”



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