Investing in innovation

Published:  05 August, 2010

Technical plastic moulder A K Industries (AKI) of Hereford has been working with the product innovation facilitator Pera to research and develop the Lowheat industrial and commercial heat recovery unit with EU funding. This has been a consortium project delivered in the form of a "pre-competitive, proof-of-principle prototype” by the Mechatronics team within the UK Intelligent Systems Research Institute (www.uk-isri.org), part of the Pera Innovation Network. The patent is pending, with the intellectual property currently in the name of the CIPHE (visit www.lowheat.iphe.org.uk). PWE reports.

Lowheat uses heat pipes in reclaiming low-grade heat from the waste water of entire buildings such as process plants (paper mills, dyeing plants, etc) and laundries. The system is most easy to install where all waste water exits the building at a single point.

It includes a counter-flow, not parallel-flow, heat exchanger for optimal heat transfer performance and heat pipe technology to transfer the heat from one source to another. The use of racks of coated copper heat pipes, with a porous, wick capillary lining, for the heat exchanger allows a physical air gap separation between the different racks processing waste water and new wholesome water. That air break is mandatory to meet regulations across Europe, and yet there is no loss of heat through it owing to the way in which heat pipes work.

For the Lowheat application, heat pipes are supplied in rod form of circular cross-section. For maximum flexibility, any number, in practice from 10 to 40, can be clipped together in banks or racks to meet the needs of different applications.

Lowheat incorporates an intelligent system to control two very low power consumption pumps (each using less than 100W of energy), and these cycle the waste water through the heat exchanger. The intelligent feature uses temperature sensors (thermocouples) for control when the pumps are turned on. That means that the system will run only when there is sufficient heat in the waste water for energy to be extracted from it (normally above 30°C, but the temperature can be specified for any particular situation). So, when the temperature is below this level, the system remains switched off until the next batch of warm water is sensed.

A buffer is incorporated into the Lowheat system to store the hot waste water before it passes through the heat exchanger. That buffer is variable in capacity depending upon the installation requirements. Hence, where a site generates a big volume of waste hot water, a larger buffer is best, for processing as much of that water as possible.

The hot waste water may be pumped through the heat exchanger a number of times to extract as much energy from it as possible. Since the pumps' operation is determined by the temperature of the hot water in the buffer, they will continue to operate until as much heat has been recovered from the waste water as is possible. Traditional heat recovery devices cycle the waste hot water through the heat exchanger only once, and it is very unlikely that you will extract all the energy within hot water in one pass. Therefore Lowheat is more efficient than other methods of recovering the energy stored in hot waste water.

Also incorporated into the electronics of Lowheat is a wireless capability, so that the system may be linked to a monitoring device. This simple wall-mounted device gives readouts of realtime energy recovery as well as cumulative totals. That gives the user a convenient local point to check out how much energy has been recovered and cost saved over a specific period.

The recovered heat from the waste water can be used for a number of purposes, but the most common would be to feed the recovered heat back into the hot water system of a building. The recovered heat may be fed to a store or possibly directly back into the system, where there is a continuous process of water being used and dumped into the drain.

Pera CEO, John Hill commented: “Pera, in partnership with national and regional Government agencies, is the largest provider of productivity and innovation support to small businesses in the UK, and in our 64-year history we have worked with over 100,000 companies. However, very few of these have demonstrated the same ambition, enthusiasm and ability to harness innovation to create customer value as AKI. We regard AKI as unusually visionary and an exemplar of precisely what UK manufacturers need to be in order to survive and thrive in the 21st Century, global, knowledge-based economy. The key is not simply to attempt to be the cheapest supplier, but to be the one that adds greatest value to customer operations and product value propositions. We believe that AKI achieves this.”

As the facilitator of this project, Pera has evolved over 64 years to become one of Europe"s foremost specialists in innovation strategy, helping companies to unlock the potential in their products and markets by exploiting technology (www.pera.com).

Each year Pera takes hundreds of companies from new, initial product concept generation through to market entry by five methods:

•  Helping to develop new ideas for higher value products, creating protectable differentiation in the marketplace and delivering results in the form of a “pre-competitive, proof-of-principle prototype”.

•  Introducing innovation as a repeatable business process.

•  Offering access to over 10,000 experts across Europe to develop the production resources needed for realising higher value product ideas.

•  Offering access to EC or UK Government funding to vastly reduce the costs and risks of new technology development. Accordingly, for the European Commission’s currently running Framework Programme 7 (FP7), the link to the official website on EC funds, projects and submissions is: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/

•  Assembling pan-European supply chains that can take the new products to market. As a UK technical moulding specialist, A K Industries (AKI) has been involved in many of these consortia (www.aki.co.uk).

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