Interview

How Steve Lindsey shot from racing driver to “the next James Dyson”

By Oliver Smith 20 June 2017
Steve Lindsey and his blade compressor.
Summary

All without any engineering qualifications.

Steve Lindsey is a 45-year-old from Richmond, Surrey – he’s also one of Britain’s best-kept engineering secrets.

Dubbed the “next Dyson” by the Carbon Trust, he’s working with huge clients like Severn Trent Water and has even been shortlisted for the 2017 European Inventor of the Year Award.

All because of a doughnut-shaped doodle he dreamed up a decade ago.

A powerful invention

His ring-shaped doodle would become a revolutionary compressor.

Compressors don’t sound sexy – that’s probably because they aren’t – but these tiny pistons are key to powering nearly every machine in our lives, from opening the doors on the Tube to the air conditioning at work.

They’re also incredibly energy demanding, altogether 10% of Europe’s entire industrial energy expenditure goes on powering compressors.

Steve Lindsey and his team of engineers at Lontra, Warwickshire.

So a tiny saving in the world of compressors can make a huge difference.

As a self-confessed automotive enthusiast, Lindsey was working as a test-driver for a German car company when he realised how inefficient the compressors in his car’s engine were.

Instead he came up with a better idea.

“Although I don’t have an engineering qualification, I sketched my innovation – a ring-doughnut-shaped design on paper and then submitted a patent in 2003,” he told The Memo.

A year later he’d quit his job as a business consultant in the City and had launched his own business Lontra to turn his ‘blade compressor’ from sketch into reality.

Lindsey's blade compressor.

Meet Lontra

After years of tireless design iteration in 2012 a landmark trial with Severn Trent Water saw Lindsey’s blade compressors used to pump waste water deliver energy savings of a whopping 21% “when most industries try to optimise for 1-2% gains”.

In 2014 Lontra signed a deal with Swiss pump maker Sulzer believed to be worth in the region of £600m to supply blade compressors.

Last year he won funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to bring the technology into the pharmaceutical and food sectors for pneumatic conveyors, and this year Lindsey is leading a consortium to see how his innovation might improve energy generation.

These wins and others have led Lindsey to be heralded as the next Sir James Dyson and as a champion of British hardware innovation, a sector that he says isn’t celebrated as it should be:

“There’s a huge amount of very specialised manufacturing that occurs in the UK, from powertrains for Jaguar Land Rover to the wings of A380s.”

“What’s true is that a lot of pioneering work is under-appreciated, and all too often is snapped up by competitors before it is brought to market.”

Being compared to the likes of Dyson is “gratifying” and he says:

“The UK needs more individuals with the strength of character to take their ideas through to innovations that improve our lives.”

With global ambitions and given the current political climate Lindsey says he’s keeping close watch on conversations as plans around Brexit as “naturally exporting is the key to our business growth and reaching our full potential”.

Given his track record something tells us that Lindsey will be successful, no matter the outcome.