“For years we’ve been joking about the Bowie song, ‘Take your pills and put your helmet on,’” says Roy Henderson, CEO of Green Cell Technologies. But what he and Jan Vlok have managed is certainly no laughing matter. Their megalith 3.2 ton invention called The Disruptor, which, together with their Dynamic Cell Disruption (DCD) technology, could have what it takes to revolutionize the food industry. In addition, it could have further applications in the cosmeceutical, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.
Once investors see it, Henderson says, they take to it like kids in a candy store. And thank the gods: R38 million has gone into its development.
One user is Ryan Wyness form Wyness Vineyards, based in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine valley. After an initial trial the Disruptor has yielded incredible results, including “instant extraction, higher levels of anthocyanins, higher levels of proteins,higher levels of acid in post fermentation analysis, double the amount of oil extraction and more yield,” he says.
Another is chef Richard Hobson, one half of Froggit Foods, who has so far used it to process olives and chillies. “The chillies go through crushed and out comes out a wonderful, smoothed paste.” This, he says, is a great time saver – and the results are amazing.
Henderson uses rooibos tea as a simple example. Removing some chemical components gives you a purer form of aspalathin, the antioxidant found in the plant. “You can take that and turn it into a cream for a cosmetic, a bar, a snack, a capsule or a cosmeceutical.” he says.
“Any time you take a whole product – a whole orange, a whole apple, a whole grain – and want to break it open, it becomes an extraction.” That, Henderson says, is what they’ve become really good at: effective extraction. Applications, incredibly, stretch into biofuels, turning waste products into feed for cattle or crops, and they’re even looking into beers and other spirits.
“The extraction is instant.” Their smallest machines process materials at 1.5 tons per hour, the biggest at 6. Once something emerges from The Disruptor, Henderson says it can go on to be processed further. “With juice, if you want the fibre, leave it as is. Or, to create an extract, you’d want to remove all insolubles and get to the concentration.”
Henderson and Vlok are also marketing a product called Nourish, a tonic made from a combination of everyday ingredients, like apples, which provides consumers with the full recommended daily vitamin intake for less than R5 per day. While testing the product all sorts of strange ingredients were processed – including whole fish skins.
They even tried chicken in an attempt to help the poultry industry create a healthier alternative to brining, using chicken protein rather than salty brine. He compares the chicken on the other end to a smooth, aqueous cream-like substance. What can’t it do? “We found that whole stone fruits wouldn’t go through it; it wouldn’t break The Disruptor, but it would stop it.”
Those, he says, have to be processed first. How did you secure funding for such a project? “We didn’t,” says Henderson, who is a a retired navy officer and underwater explosives expert. “When we approached DTI, we didn’t have a company so to speak. We were just two guys trying to do something.
We couldn’t just take people on board hoping things would go ahead.” Their first step was to start a company, he says, before they could start worrying about who would be part of it.
“It was funded by opening businesses and running them alongside, so we could take cash out of these businesses to pay for research and development.” They sold these companies to people in the industry who could take them further. “Our focus was split, so it would be a bit disingenuous to say we were putting our heart and soul into each of those businesses.”
He says then sustainability wasn’t an issue, and if someone could make money from one of their businesses, they’d sell it. “That’s how we got our cash.”
Now they are at a point where they’re generating sufficient income and Henderson has some advice for the ambitious inventor. The lesson that Jan and I learned is that there are investors and investors. You’ve got to be absolutely 100% [certain] that you’ve got the right investor who is there almost in the philosophical sense. Yes, they want to make money, but they’ve got their hearts in the right place.”
He warns against those who end up owning 10% of their own companies because of dilution from too many investors. “You’ve got to be careful in that you have the right type of investor.”
For tomorrow’s inventors, he notes: “Anyone who wants to invent, I think the principal thing is: Be bloody-minded in your thought-process. You have to be persistent to the point of not listening to anyone else.” It certainly seems to work.