Hurray for Polywood! Northern Powergrid trials innovation electricity poles that could save more than 90,000 trees a year

Northern Powergrid is championing a new sustainable ultra-strong wood pole manufacturing technique that reduces material use by up to 85%. The network operator is now calling on DNO colleagues to support the development of Pollywood Ltd, a British start-up, to help deliver significant environmental benefits in new markets across the globe.

Pollywood has developed a new super-strong construction material that has a better weight to strength ratio than steel, using a fraction of the raw materials with no need for the soon-to-be-banned creosote coating. The innovation follows a project originally kick-started by international innovation broker the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC).

Northern Powergrid’s support and £106,000 investment via the EIC progressed this project from initial conception to Technology Readiness Level 3 over the past 24 months. To date it has successfully proved its feasibility with a 1.5 metre prototype. A further £1.4 million investment is now needed, so Pollywood can develop new machinery capable of creating larger structures and progress to Technology Readiness Level 9, when it will become ready for market roll-out. Initial tests established that the material will exceed the current industry standard for electricity poles. 

Pollywood created a new manufacturing method using wood fibre and natural bio-based resins. The new technique produces a super-strong hollow pole capable of replacing previously solid structures. 60,000 new wooden electricity poles are needed in the UK every year (with a further 50,000 needed by telecoms colleagues). The current poles take up to 18 months to source and deliver, because exactly the right kind of pine tree has to be sourced.

Iain Miller, Head of Innovation at Northern Powergrid, commented: “Pollywood has captured our attention because it covers our impact areas so well. As a business it’s a real challenge to keep enough stock of poles and we are forced to stockpile huge quantities just in case of a bad storm. Not only will Pollywood shorten sourcing times due to their manufacturing methods, but we’ll also get a stronger and more sustainable, durable product that should be able to withstand more arduous weather conditions – leading to less replacement need.”

Steve Crighton, MD of Pollywood and the inventor of the technology, commented: “We’ve started to develop it for the electricity industry, however a materials innovation exercise showed nearly 200 potential uses across more than ten industrial sectors – making it a British-grown innovation that could change the face of construction and open up a new lease of life for the British wood industry with a new sustainable, valuable material.”


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