Prof Tony's got lots of energy; MILLIONAIRE Professor Tony Marmont's latest venture - a company that turns fresh air into fuel - has got the whole world talking. Kelley Price speaks to the former fizzy drinks boss who became an ardent greenie.
JOB: Major investor and co-founder of Darlington-based Air Fuel Synthesis, owner of Beacon Energy, visiting Professor at three universities.
LIVES: On a working farm near Loughborough, with his wife, WHO....
Angela, 15 cows and three newly-born calves.
HOBBIES: Making his own home carbon neutral, including wind turbines and photovoltaics, which power the couple's electric car. MANTRA: "It's fairly hackneyed, but leave no stone unturned."
The famously straight-talking environmentalist Sir Jonathon Porritt just this week called him "one of the most inspiring people imaginable".
But at 82, Tony Marmont is "no spring chicken", to coin his own phrase.
A visiting professor at several universities, he also made his fortune in the soft drinks and plastic bottle industries; and now his own environmental conscience has come full circle. The Darlington company he's a major investor in - Air Fuel Synthesis - has become the first to create a powerful transport fuel from fresh air.
It's a major breakthrough. The whole world's eyes are on the company's tiny demonstrator unit in Eaglescliffe.
You only have to talk to Tony for a minute to feel his energy and passion for the project.
For his own part, he merely wants to make enough fuel to power his helicopter, which he still flies.
That, and help change civilisation, which he believes is entirely feasible - although he admits the project has a long way to go before it becomes a world-changer.
"Long term, this could break our dependence on the Middle East and OPEC [Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] oil prices," he says.
"It could act as a leveller for developing countries. It has social implications as well as environmental.
"A lot of people said it couldn't be done. We have proved we can do it.
"We are aware of four or five groups around the world that are trying to do this, but I think we're the only ones that have succeeded so far."
So what motivates him? A good old-fashioned dose of British guilt - and a burning desire to make the world a better place for his grandchildren.
"My passion isn't to make money," he claims, "I'm no youngster.
"I want my grandchildren to have a better life. It's something that worries me."
Tony joined the Air Force just as the War was ending in 1946, where he flew a Dakota D3 "tail-dragger".
"I have been a flying man all my life,I've got a passion for it.
"I still fly now, I run a helicopter -which isn't exactly environmentally friendly.
"I feel guilty about it, and it's guilt that has driven me."
Just before being called up for National Service, he'd already become involved with his Leicestershire business Carter Soft Drinks.
He was to grow the business to 700 staff and acquire a 20% UK market share during more than four decades in operation.
"We kept ahead of the game and made things that people wanted," he says simply.
Eventually he built his own bottle making machines, which evolved into a plastic bottles factory in Scunthorpe.
It was then he first started dealing with Wilton and became aware of the wealth of chemical and engineering skills on Teesside. But it wasn't until the oil crisis in the 70s that he developed an interest in alternative energy sources.
By 1992, Tony had bought the Texas company Carter Wind Turbines, that became one of the few British owned companies to make 300 kilowatt wind turbines.
But the company couldn't secure enough orders due to a lack of planning permission for projects, and Tony was forced to sell up.
He also sold his plastics factory to Shell, and became chair of one of its subsidiary companies.
Also in 1992, Tony was awarded the title of visiting professor from De Montfort University.
He donated funds to help establish two centres, AMSET, and CREST, for research into renewables, at De Montfort and Loughbrough Universities respectively and is still "active in the energy curriculums" at Nottingham and Loughborough universities.
Nowadays he runs Beacon Energy, advisors for commercial and domestic users.
And together with managing director of Air Fuel Synthesis, Darlington-based Peter Harrison and a team of around ten others, he is often on Teesside, working hard to make the project happen.
Peter is the one responsible for bringing the project to Teesside where, as Tony says, "all the skills from the ex-ICI guys are."
"It's a safe bet, now we know we can do it," Tony adds.
"We want to get further and we need PS5m to build a tonne-a-day plant within about 18 months.
"We are not being blunt about it," he quips, "we just need plenty of money."
Does his energy in his quest to leave some kind of meaningful legacy know no bounds? Not all of the time, he admits. "These days I often come home at night and fall asleep reading the paper."
The process uses air to make fuel synthetically. "We have found a way of capturing the CO2 from the atmosphere," said Tony.
"We take the water from the air that creates hydrogen, we put the co2 and hydrogen together in a special tube called a reactor that produces the gas.
"The important thing is, it doesn't leave residual co2 in the atmosphere. "If we were to dig oil out of the ground and burn it, that's releasing c02 back into the atmosphere. "This is carbon neutral."
PLAN: Prof Tony Marmont has got the whole world talking