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New Zealand Innovation Awards: Start-up Innovation of the Year, Burnsafe NZ

Consider this for a moment: since 1960, as many as 110 million mines and unexploded ordnance have been spread throughout the world. They can be found in at least 78 different nations across the globe. Each year, anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed. Countless more are maimed. About 80 percent of the victims are civilians. And children are the most affected age group

That’s where Burnsafe NZ comes in. The company has invented a non-explosive device to get rid of land mines and unexploded ordnance. But simply creating tech that saves lives isn’t enough – it also works with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in countries where mines remain. 

Burnsafe’s signature product, the Thermit, is based upon the aluminothermic process. Developed way back in the 1890s and primarily used in railway welding in Germany, heat in excess of 2,500 degrees Celsius is used to melt metal. The higher the heat, the thicker the metal that can be melted.

Marty Donoghue.

As the company says: “Our approach is that there has to be a safer, cheaper and more effective means of disposal rather than just ‘blowing everything up’.”

Not only are Burnsafe’s devices safer than other forms of mine disposal, but they are also cheaper to produce and easier to train people to use – requiring as little as 1-2 hours of training as opposed to 2-3 days for basic demolition training.

Behind the company is Marty Donoghue, who has spent 27 years in military service, mostly with the New Zealand Defence Force and consulting for the United Nations – with a specialty in bomb disposal. Donoghue recently attended the Invictus Games in Toronto – an international Paralympic sporting competition for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans created by the UK’s Prince Harry – to support veterans and talk about his work, taking a short break from training mine removal teams in Colombia to use Burnsafe’s technology to remove land mines. 

Colombia has a goal of being landmine-free by 2021– and is using Burnsafe’s tech to help it achieve that goal. This is coming through the HALO Trust (which works around the world to create safe and secure environments in war-torn communities by clearing landmines, managing stockpiles of weapons and destroying unexploded ordnance) and investment from the New Zealand government, which has allocated $1 million over three years to support the nation’s continued demining effort. 

Evaluator comments:

What an excellent innovation. Burnsafe will be a game-changer when in place globally, especially in lower-income countries recovering from warfare. Congratulations on your partnerships with HALO Trust and others.

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