David Border

David Border who died in June 2019 at his home in Cambridgeshire was a very well-known figure in the industry for organic waste recycling in the UK and internationally, particularly in the United States.  With his signature bushy red-brown beard, small stature and, by his own admission, rotund and somewhat overweight profile, his unique shadow lies across so much of the organics' industry we know today.  

David graduated from The University of London in 1967 and went on to lecture in biochemistry at Imperial College during the1970s, researching biochemistry of fungi and their microbial interactions. In his early career he published papers in some of the most prestigious scientific journals, including Nature. He went on to work in the mushroom industry which at the time was the only commercial sector involved in large-scale composting. In 1987 he joined Hensby's; a large-scale mushroom compost site. Here he continued research into process optimisation and compost biology, but from hereon, focused on commercially oriented research, large-scale problems and ideas.

Technology advanced quickly and he was a pioneer of what would become industry-standard in-vessel composting. The mushroom industry transformed rapidly from one using horse-manure and open-windrow compost systems to more controlled processes using, largely, chicken manure and more defined inputs. David became central to the development of what would become the iconic large-scale composting facility at Huntingdon. Never content to stop developing ideas he was the first person in the UK to think about what else could be composted using in-vessel systems and much to the amusement of those in the mushroom industry he set about trying a range of materials, from waste-water sludges to shredded greenwaste. Not only putting, what seemed at the time, enormous quantities of 'stuff' into aerated boxes but also bringing a critical microbiologist's view to what could be, or should not be, done -  with a sharp eye for the 'snake-oil salesmen' offering magic fixes: from mineral additives and enzyme supplements to microbial 'seeding'. 

David was a very professional and trusted consultant through his company David Border Consultancy, advising some of the top UK project developers not only in composting, but also in next-generation technologies such as anaerobic digestion. However, first and foremost he was a communicator and an ideas-man. He thrived on this, meeting new friends, colleagues and associates, filing ideas away in his memory until they came in useful; such as a comment made on a study tour to Israel in the 1990s in a conversation more than 20 years later. A meeting that David relished was with HRH Prince Charles, showing him the muddy way around the Hensby's compost site to see the innovative sludge-composting work: a rare down-to-earth trip for HRH and it's nice to think that perhaps this was a key step to his own love of organic farming and the environment.   

David always published his ideas and new developments, particularly in industry-journals both in Europe and the USA. He became a very well-known participant in international organics' conferences, particularly Biocycle events held across the US and was a member of, and contributor to, various industry advisory bodies.

In recent years David continued to look beyond the current state-of-the-art and not content with having been a key figure in developing commercial-scale controlled composting turned his attention to using our natural resources as biorefineries, particularly micro-algae as the next generation technology. He continued to look at how to make an economic case for such developments, proposing integrated processing, waste management and carbon-accounting strategies.

David continued to publish whenever possible, including a number of articles in preparation, as yet unpublished.  He had a strong presence on professional social-media with around a thousand followers across the globe and was a prolific blogger and on-line reviewer, freely distributing thoughts, ideas and commentary.   

Never one to worry too much about the formalities of conference dinners etc. he was never known to wear a tie, and in fact in more than 40 years seemed never to change his appearance or outwardly good mood. Sadly, despite this apparent level-headed consistency David was not in good health nor a happy or contented individual and, after a previous attempt, took his own life: alone. Those that worked with David know that his legacy lies in the quality, predictability health and safety of our composts and digestates and in the next generation of organics research, yet at a personal level his passing risks going largely unrecorded. To mark his passing, donations to the mental health charity Mind can be made via the following link which was established by friends and colleagues in his memory.

Posted 21/06/19, Updated 27/06/19

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