With all the travelling I seem to have been doing outside the UK, it was high time I did some within the country. I have just spent the past three days in Sheffield and Manchester, for two very different projects. The first was for E-LIFE, yet again. At the University of Sheffield Hallam, situated bang in the middle of the beautiful city, resides an academic called Hywel Jones, a material scientist of some repute (he has just been awarded the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize for developing a new lighter weight ceramic body armour). Hywel specialises in what materials are in things and, a few years ago, did some interesting research into what is in electronics. It was on this subject we wanted to talk to him about so the E-LIFE team, reorganised yet again, headed up North. The time is was Alex Kryszkiewicz and Huw Poraj-Wilczynski (there are a few Polish names in the E-LIFE crew but none of them seem to speak Polish).
We spent the day with Hywel filming deep within the underbelly of the university's Material & Engineering Research Institute (MERI for short). Surrounded by brand new labs and equipment, Hywel took us through just how difficult it was to get into the average electronic item (laptop, phone, camera) and what elements are actually used in their manufacture. Fascinatingly, there are as many as 40 elements from that are used, almost half of the entire periodic table. He demonstrated this using a futuristic machine called an X-Ray Flurorescent Analyser, which could list all the elements within a thin sample. Unfortunately less than half these 40 elements are actually retrieved in the recycling process as most are present in such small amounts that it is not financially worthwhile to extract them.
Following Sheffield, Alex and Huw headed back down South while I took the beautiful train ride across the Peak District to Manchester (beautiful because of the scenery, not because of the train itself I hasten to add) for a production meeting with the clothing brand Private White V.C. In the near future I will be producing a fashion documentary on the company, whose company motto is from Sheep to Shop in 10 miles. The motto sums up the ethos behind the company well. They use local materials from local farmers and mills to make high quality and durable clothing in their Manchester factory using a local workforce. It is an old model that is not at all that common today as the vast majority of clothing brands look for cheaper manufacturing alternatives far far abroad. On board is Oscar nominated director/producer team Mark Gill and Baldwin Lee and it is shaping up to be quite a project, although hunting down the perfect sheep field in Staffordshire may prove to be quite a task.