With an industrial history stretching back 250 years, Mitchell Dryers is definitely a firm that has moved with the times.

First established as a clock making business in Longtown by the Blaylock family in 1768, the company manufactured ticket date presses in the 19th century before building the Long Island Iron Works and moving into producing agricultural, railway equipment, steam engines and grinding mills.

Fast forward to this century and Mitchell Dryers are now experts in designing and building industrial dryers for a vast range of purposes, with its products in use in more than 50 countries across the world and playing a part in the production of everything from pharmaceuticals to breakfast cereals.

In 2016 the firm was bought by CAD Works Engineering Limited, which also moved it from Denton Holme to an 85,000 square foot facility on Kingmoor Park. However, the company went into receivership during the pandemic as it was unable to fulfil major orders for calciners destined for overseas markets.

It was bought out of administration by Cumbrian entrepreneur and owner of Kingmoor Park Enterprise Zone Brian Scowcroft last year.

Under new ownership and with new chief executive Graham Hartley at the helm, the firm is focused on becoming a major player in the recycling and green energy market with up to £10m of investment expected this year.

"Over the years we have dried well in excess of 3000 different types of material and in all sorts of different markets," says Graham.

"Anything from olive grove husks to biomass pellets to slate deposits.

“We get some very strange requests for drying materials around the world, but it all starts with the honest conversation around what are you trying to achieve and what you're trying to dry.”

Prior to taking on the role at Mitchell Dryers, Graham worked for Carr’s Group, as managing director of the engineering division. Before his time at Carr’s, Graham worked for Siemens, in Newcastle, as managing director responsible for its steam turbine product line globally, gas turbines in the UK and Ireland and wind service.

He says the “phoenix from the ashes” story for Mitchell Dryers lies in applying its drying expertise to the world of recycling and green energy.

For the last seven or eight years the company has been working on developing a calciner - or dryer - which can use heat to extract materials from used car parts and tyres, at the same time as producing energy and hydrogen as a byproduct.

Graham says a product such as car tyres can be shredded into small particles, with the steel elements extracted using magnets, and then recycled.

The rubber fragments can then be put into a drying machine and broken down into a material known as carbon black, which has value as an industrial raw material itself, including for reuse in making new tyres.

Steam is produced as a byproduct of the process, alongside hydrogen. While the former can be harnessed to turn turbines and generate electricity through a generator to sell power to the grid, there is expected to be a growing market in using hydrogen to power vehicles.

Graham says the firm is selling dryers into the recycling market which can perform all of these processes - and more - on a number of car parts and other materials.

"Landfill tax, as we know, is significantly going up," he says.

"It's becoming increasingly unaffordable to bury waste and it isn't the right thing to do anyway. At the same time energy prices are rising.

“The payback period for investing in this machinery has come down significantly based on increasing energy prices and increasing landfill costs.”

Graham hopes the development of this new market and others will drive the company forward, potentially growing its number of employees from 35 at present to as many as 70 in the next 12 months.

At the same time, he says the company has started to establish a network of agents globally to support and maintain its machinery overseas. It already has agents in India, Israel and the Middle East.

Other plans for the coming year include moving its test centre - where it carries out research and development on drying equipment - from Denton Holme to its main base on Kingmoor Park.

"Our test centre will be an innovation and technical centre," says Graham.

"It's somewhere we'll be able to work alongside the individual customers to come up with innovative solutions. It's going to be very much focused on selling a value-added proposition to the customer. That's the key thing, as well as making sure that the technology is reliable and available. This equipment can be part of a continuous process and so it needs to be engineered to have the least amount of downtime possible.”

The relocation of the test centre is just one of nine major projects which will take place at the site this year, with others including the installation of a biomass heating plant and a larger door on its workshop.

In total Graham expects these and other investments will total between £8m and £10m this year helping the company to continue its long heritage of adapting to meet the times.

“What we are doing is hitting a big, sweet spot at the moment in terms of how the economy is developing and playing a growing part in providing green environmentally friendly solutions,” he says.