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Outside the Box

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

UK SME, BoxTube aims to transform air quality through a global logistics network, supported by Cranfield University

Preserving the planet for future generations requires new approaches. Recognising this, Cranfield University, through a generous philanthropic donation from Green Future Investments Ltd (GFIL), offers small grants and innovation support to early-stage ideas with the maximum potential impact.

Dr Juliet Kauffmann, Business Partnerships Manager at Cranfield said the university was particularly open to ideas unlikely to be awarded through conventional Research and Development funds. She believes ‘innovators have a critical part to play in the transition to a clean future’. The GFIL Future Frontiers Fund offers £10,000 to support this.

Dr Alan Holford is a Veterinary Surgeon with a passion for the environment. Deliveries arrive at his surgery every day and he became aware of the significant waste of cardboard boxes and single use plastics used by retailers. He said: ‘Veterinary medicines and supplies are delivered in plastic boxes, which are collected with the next delivery.

Yet, tonnes of cardboard and single use plastic are used in other deliveries, from retail distribution to private parcels. I imagined a network taking reusable plastic boxes, like the veterinary wholesalers, to widespread public usage.’

Dr Holford developed a sustainable concept for an integrated logistics system focusing on small reusable containers. He designed and costed components for automated networks in cities and transporting boxes between urban areas. Realising the lorry loading solution could stand alone, he found a mentor to co-found a company, BoxTube, so he could focus on it full time.

Dr Holford saw Cranfield’s call for green business ideas on konfer and realised it was the right opportunity for his project. He described Cranfield’s support as ‘amazing’. With expert mentoring from design engineer Dr Matt Collins, he was able to develop prototype parts and a working system prototype. He added: ‘this collaboration has really helped hone the solution’.

‘By the end of the project, the mechanism should be prototyped sufficiently to attract investment for full scale development. We are also gearing up for product launch, when ready, with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by millions of tonnes each year.

Dr Holford concluded by saying ‘The UK has a fantastic network of researchers and facilities, keen to collaborate with business to develop real world technology. Especially if they have potential social, medical, or environmental impact. Cranfield has been fantastic and has a lot of expertise relevant to logistics and manufacturing and so it would be great to collaborate with them further. I would advise any UK innovator to start looking for help and guidance at the earliest stage. There are lots of opportunities to collaborate.’

Cranfield’s Dr Kauffman said: ‘We appreciate konfer’s ability to reach a range of different people, perspectives, and organisations, and were delighted to support BoxTube. A collaborative project is now underway and scheduled to be completed by the end of September, with huge potential for reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality.’

‘Our grants provide funding for equipment and consumables, third-party services, and travel. This, together with a technical mentor, enables individual entrepreneurs and businesses to advance their early-stage ideas to proof of concept and to make a go/no go decision around further development. It has proved incredibly valuable, reaching beyond expectations of both parties.’ About BoxTube BoxTube aims to create a global network saving millions of tonnes of carbon emissions and transforming air quality in urban areas, working in three phases:

  1. A rapid lorry loading solution, to better use vehicle space and reduce fleets and emissions.

  2. Adapt the technology to transfer the boxes from HGVs onto trains, to achieve 95% lower emissions.

  3. Eventually, install automated subterranean systems into cities, connecting rail and road systems to every home and business in dense urban environments.

For more information, please get in touch.


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