ONE of Kilkenny’s most respected innovators is beating the recession. Norman Leeper has seen bad times before and from the ashes of a once great company he has started a new thriving young business He now designs and builds the in-feed systems for fuel efficient boilers which use wood pellets and other green energies.
He was the owner and managing director of SFL Engineering in Callan which was one of the early victims of the demise of the Celtic Tiger. That was back in 2008. The company specialised in fabricating the metal for petrol forecourts. When land prices went through the roof, many petrol station in urban areas were closed down and turned into apartment blocks leaving him to close the business which had been so successful for so many years with the loss of 66 jobs.
He already employs five people at his engineering business in Castlecomer and they re all former employees at SFL and have over 100 years of experience behind them and it looks more and more will get jobs there. Village Engineering Ltd., based at Castlecomer Business Park is specialising in bio fuels and the construction of mechanical parts to service that energy. It is a growth area and as oil prices soar it is becoming more and more profitable.
And it is looking to the future and strategic alliances with larger global corporations because he foresees all household waste, in the future, being treated at home.
He has linked up with another innovative local company which is also going well in these challenging times. Kilogen Ltd. is a Green Energy Service Company (GESCO) dedicated to the local production and processing of bio-energy fuels. It is focused on enabling farmers to select and grow the most appropriate energy crops for conversion into energy solutions for consumers and industry within a 50 kilometre radius of its planned production location near Kilkenny city
After the closure of SFL in 2008, Norman Leeper found himself unemployed for the first time in his life. It was a difficult period for a man who prided himself in his work ethic. “Being interested in recycling and renewable energy I studied a few courses on energy rating of buildings and qualified as an energy assessor,” he said.
He also travelled to trade shows and seminars in Britain and Europe to familiarise himself with the latest technologies and to see what the competition was offering.
This led to a meeting with Kilogen, which is a company made up of a number of Kilkenny successful farmers, who, a few years ago, embarked on growing Miscanthus (elephant grass), which is a sustainable energy crop, and is gaining popularity as an alternative to expensive oil and gas.
Kilogen needed an engineer to help them (a) with the building of a specific machine to prepare the miscanthus for planting and (b) to design and construct boiler houses, storage facilities, and material handling systems to feed their product into the boilers. Who better than Norman Leeper to do it.
“Kilogen were anxious to support local enterprise where possible, and given this wonderful opportunity, my wife and I took the courageous step to invest in a new manufacturing business, where we now have five full time employees, and in addition we provide subcontract work to other local companies, this would equate to at least two more full time jobs,” Norman said.
“All our employees are former highly skilled SFL staff who collectively brought more than 100 years valuable experience to our new business,” he said.
“We are grateful to have other customers too who have given us work, in the areas of materials handling and recycling equipment, including glass recycling where we have a lot of experience.
“We have already exported some orders and we are currently in discussion with overseas clients who are interested in our products and services. This will inevitably lead to further employment opportunities as these projects mature.
Looking to the future we are confident that Ireland Inc will recover from the worst recession in living memory. For us, the design, and development of niche products is important. We have access to, and strategic alliances with leading international technology providers.
“For example, next generation household waste will be treated at home. Can you imagine a devise about the size of a freezer chest in your garage where you will place everything you now put into your dust bin, including food waste and waste water and sewage. This devise will convert your waste (a) into a fuel which will contribute to your heat source (b)a small amount of inert ash (c) and clean water that can safely be discharged or recycled/reused.
By the way Norman is 63 years young.