Blog search results for Tag: industrial

Sustainability & Environment

We begin our new series breaking down key innovations in agriculture with the Haber-Bosch process, which enabled large-scale agriculture worldwide. 

Nitrogen is essential to plant growth, but its natural production, through the decay of organic matter, cannot replenish nitrogen in soils quickly enough to keep up with the demands of agriculture. 

Ammonia – a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen – is therefore a key ingredient in fertilisers, allowing farmers to replenish the soil with nitrogen at will. As well as fertilisers, ammonia is used in pharmaceuticals, plastics, refrigerants, explosives, and in numerous industrial processes. 

But how is it made? At the turn of the 20th Century, ammonia was mostly mined from deposits of niter (also known as saltpetre – the mineral form of potassium nitrate), but the known reserves would not satisfy predicted demands. Researchers had to find alternative sources. 

 Fritz Haber left and Carl Bosch right

Fritz Haber (left) and Carl Bosch (right) created and commercialised the process.

Atmospheric nitrogen, which makes up almost 80% of air, was the obvious feedstock – its supply, to all intents and purposes, being infinite. But reacting atmospheric nitrogen, which is exceptionally stable owing to its strong triple bonds, posed a challenge for chemists globally.

In 1905, German chemist Fritz Haber cracked the riddle of fixing nitrogen from air. Using high pressure and an iron catalyst, Haber was able to directly react nitrogen and hydrogen gas to create liquid ammonia. 

His process was soon scaled up by BASF chemist and engineer Carl Bosch, becoming known as the Haber-Bosch process, and this would lead to the mass production of agricultural fertilisers and a phenomenal increase in the growth of crops for human consumption.

The Haber-Bosch process is conducted at a high pressure of 200 atmospheres and reaction temperatures of 450°C. It also requires a large feedstock of natural gas, and there is a global research and development effort to replace the process with a more sustainable alternative – just as the Haber-Bosch process replaced niter mining over a century ago. 


Energy

Installing new energy infrastructure on the Isles of Scilly, UK, is a tricky proposition, given the islands’ location 28 miles off the Cornish coast, and a population of just 2,500 to share the high costs. 

But an exciting new project is about to transform the islands’ energy provision, reducing energy costs and supporting clean growth, through the use of a smart energy grid.

By 2025, the Smart Islands programme aims to provide the Isles of Scilly with 40% of its electricity from renewables, cut Scillonians’ electricity bills by 40%, and revolutionise transport, with 40% of cars to be electric or low-carbon. The key to this will be an integrated smart energy system, operated by a local community energy services company and monitored through an Internet of Things platform.

 Local Growth Fund

In the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, published in November 2017, it was announced that the Local Growth Fund would provide £2.95m funding to the project, via the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

The project will be led by Hitachi Europe Ltd in a public-private partnership, along with UK-based smart energy technology company Moixa, and smart energy software company PassivSystems.

 

Colin Calder, CEO of PassivSystems, explained, ‘Our scalable cloud-based energy management platform will be integrated with a range of domestic and commercial renewable technologies, allowing islanders to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels, increase energy independence and lower their carbon footprint.

‘These technologies have the potential to significantly increase savings from solar PV systems.’

Aiming to increase the renewable capacity installed on the island by 450kW and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 897 tonnes CO2 equivalent per annum, 100 homes on the islands (a tenth of the total) will be fitted with rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, and two 50kW solar gardens will also be built.

100 homes will also get energy management systems, and 10 of them will pilot a variety of additional smart energy technologies such as smart batteries and air source heat pumps.

 

Chris Wright, Moixa Chief Technology Officer, said: ‘Ordinary people will play a key role in our future energy system. Home batteries and electric vehicles controlled by smart software will help create a reliable, cost-effective, low-carbon energy system that will deliver savings to homeowners and the community.

‘Our systems will support the reduction of fuel poverty on the Scilly Isles and support their path to full energy independence. They will be scalable and flexible so they can be replicated easily to allow communities all over the world to cut carbon and benefit from the smart power revolution.’

The burgeoning smart energy industry is attracting serious investment – only this week, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced it will invest up to £8.8 million in new ideas for products and services that use smart meter data to reduce energy demand in small, non-domestic buildings; while Manchester-based smart energy start-up Upside Energy this week announced it had secured £5.5m in its first round of venture capital financing to commercialise and deploy its cloud-based smart grid platform.

Smart energy covers a range of technologies intended to allow both companies and households to increase their energy efficiency. Smart meters are currently being offered by energy suppliers, with the aim of allowing energy companies to automatically manage consumer energy use to reduce bills, for example, running your washing machine when energy demand (and therefore cost) is low. 

Battery technology also plays a major role in smart energy, allowing users to store renewable power and potentially even sell back into the grid as demand requires. In the Industrial Strategy, the government announced a new £80m National Battery Manufacturing Development Facility (NBMD) in Coventry, which will bring together academics and businesses to work on new forms and designs of batteries, as well as their chemistry and components. 

 Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly’s small population and remote access issues make it an interesting candidate for a smart energy project. Image: NASA, International Space Station Science

The funding for this and a further £40m investment into 27 individual battery research projects have been allocated from the £246m Faraday Challenge, which was announced in July.

The Smart Islands project promises a real-world demonstration of how a community can harness the power of the Internet of Things to maintain an efficient, inexpensive, and clean energy system. 

Science & Innovation

It has been a year since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund at CBI’s annual conference. At the time, May said the fund would ‘help to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success’.

Since then, Innovate UK has worked closely with the government and research councils to identify the great innovation challenges the UK faces.

‘Innovate UK have been in this right from the very beginning,’ said Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, speaking at Innovate 2017. McKernan explained that the organisation has held several engagement events to find out what ‘industry and researchers see as the challenges of the future and where economic growth can be developed in the UK’.

city gif

Originally posted by juliendouvier

The first three challenges sponsored by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund were announced in April this year: The Faraday challenge, medicines manufacturing, and robotics and autonomous systems.

Andrew Tyrer, Interim Director of Robotics and Autonomous Systems is now responsible for the £69m investment into research on AI in extreme conditions.

Research projects in this cohort include robotics in deep mining, space exploration, and off-shore energy. ‘One of the challenges is that you cannot put people in these environments,’ he said.

 Space

Space is just one of the dangerous environments being researched in robotics projects. Image: NASA

However, the UK does not currently have the research capacity to access the global market, Tyrer explained. For example, he said ‘the nuclear decommissioning market in five years will be at £150bn a year in Europe alone’ – a market the UK is currently struggling to make an impact.

‘The programme is about taking academic and business excellence, linking those value chains together, and building those industries,’ Tyrer said.

On the other end of the spectrum, is the Faraday Challenge – a ‘commitment’ to research into the battery development of driverless cars and an area of research the UK has already seen success in – headed by Jacqui Murray and Kathryn Magnay.

 petrol and diesel vehicles

The UK have pledged to have all petrol and diesel vehicles off roads by 2040. Image: Wikimedia Commons

‘Automotive has been a real success story in the UK in the last 10 years,’ said Murray, with the UK reaching ‘world-class’ in productivity levels.

However, there are ways the UK needs to improve, said Magnay. ‘In the UK we have a huge gap between the research that we do and how you scale that up in the manufacturing process,’ she said.

This is the inspiration for the upcoming £65m Faraday Battery Institute, which will serve as a hub for universities, as well as other academic institutions and industry partners, to further their science. Magnay said that Innovate UK wants to ‘provide a facility that companies and researchers can go to and take their ideas to trial them at scale’.

Will smart energy solutions be the next challenge?

Further challenges under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are currently unknown, although there are rumours of an early 2018 announcement. Which challenge will be next?

Science & Innovation

It has been a year since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund at CBI’s annual conference. At the time, May said the fund would ‘help to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success’.

Since then, Innovate UK has worked closely with the government and research councils to identify the great innovation challenges the UK faces.

‘Innovate UK have been in this right from the very beginning,’ said Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, speaking at Innovate 2017. McKernan explained that the organisation has held several engagement events to find out what ‘industry and researchers see as the challenges of the future and where economic growth can be developed in the UK’.

city gif

Originally posted by juliendouvier

The first three challenges sponsored by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund were announced in April this year: The Faraday challenge, medicines manufacturing, and robotics and autonomous systems.

Andrew Tyrer, Interim Director of Robotics and Autonomous Systems is now responsible for the £69m investment into research on AI in extreme conditions.

Research projects in this cohort include robotics in deep mining, space exploration, and off-shore energy. ‘One of the challenges is that you cannot put people in these environments,’ he said.

 Space

Space is just one of the dangerous environments being researched in robotics projects. Image: NASA

However, the UK does not currently have the research capacity to access the global market, Tyrer explained. For example, he said ‘the nuclear decommissioning market in five years will be at £150bn a year in Europe alone’ – a market the UK is currently struggling to make an impact.

‘The programme is about taking academic and business excellence, linking those value chains together, and building those industries,’ Tyrer said.

On the other end of the spectrum, is the Faraday Challenge – a ‘commitment’ to research into the battery development of driverless cars and an area of research the UK has already seen success in – headed by Jacqui Murray and Kathryn Magnay.

 petrol and diesel vehicles

The UK have pledged to have all petrol and diesel vehicles off roads by 2040. Image: Wikimedia Commons

‘Automotive has been a real success story in the UK in the last 10 years,’ said Murray, with the UK reaching ‘world-class’ in productivity levels.

However, there are ways the UK needs to improve, said Magnay. ‘In the UK we have a huge gap between the research that we do and how you scale that up in the manufacturing process,’ she said.

This is the inspiration for the upcoming £65m Faraday Battery Institute, which will serve as a hub for universities, as well as other academic institutions and industry partners, to further their science. Magnay said that Innovate UK wants to ‘provide a facility that companies and researchers can go to and take their ideas to trial them at scale’.

Will smart energy solutions be the next challenge?

Further challenges under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are currently unknown, although there are rumours of an early 2018 announcement. Which challenge will be next?

Sustainability & Environment

As the old adage goes, one man’s trash is another’s treasure – but the saying extends much further than neighbourly recycling of unwanted furniture or a misjudged gift passed on to a friend. A process known as industrial symbiosis takes the idea of repurposing waste – as the name suggests – to an industrial scale.

The basic principle is satisfyingly simple. Two (or more) factories or process plants located nearby – for example, in an industrial park – use each other’s waste streams as fuel, thus reducing waste and cost for both. In an age where industries measure their success in both economic and environmental performance, it’s easy to see how that appeals to business.

Putting it into practice, though, is not quite so easy.

For a start, there’s the issue of corporate sensitivity. How can one company trust another with specific details of its energy, material and heat needs and, even more so, the makeup of its waste?

 

Kalundborg in Denmark is one of several locations where industrial symbiosis is bringing different industries together to share resources. 

Project EPOS – a four-year EU Horizon 2020-funded project – has come up with a workaround. The project’s PhD researchers have developed blueprints for each energy-intensive sector within the project’s scope – chemicals, cement, steel, minerals, and engineering – allowing companies to share a generic view of their sector’s heat, electricity, and material stream profiles with other companies, scaled to their size, without divulging their site-specific secrets.

 

Professor Greet Van Eetvelde and PhD researcher Helene Cervo explain the EPOS Project.

‘It started with INEOS, where we had a willingness to share our results, to share what we are doing, but not to share our data […] these blueprints are the heart of the toolbox,’ EPOS Project Coordinator, Professor Greet Van Eetvelde explained at a recent briefing on EPOS in Hull, UK. Through access to these blueprints, chief engineers and plant managers can identify opportunities to make best use of their industrial neighbours’ waste streams.

Three companies operating in northeast-England’s Humber Estuary – INEOS, CEMEX and Omya – in the petrochemical, cement, and minerals sectors, respectively – are the first in the UK set to implement the initiative, following research by PhD students based in the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, and France. The wider EPOS project includes clusters in France, Switzerland, and Poland, with ArcelorMittal and Veolia, five SMEs, and two research institutes – École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, and Ghent University, Belgium – completing the partnership.

 Overview of the EPOS project

Overview of the EPOS project. 

Currently, INEOS sends waste liquid fuel to its utility provider to produce steam to be fed back into INEOS, while CEMEX derives 20% of its fuel from primary sources – presenting an opportunity for CEMEX to increase its secondary fuel proportion by re-using the waste from INEOS.

In this example, waste liquid fuel from INEOS is separated into acid and high-calorific organic components. The latter can then be delivered directly to CEMEX for use as a fuel, while the former can be fed back into INEOS’ process. 

The researchers estimate that this will deliver equivalent savings of 1,200–1,400 tonnes of CO2 per year. It requires initial investment from both companies, but a payback timeline estimates that the process will break even and then continue to deliver savings in just two years for INEOS and three for CEMEX.

It requires initial investment from both companies, but a payback timeline estimates that the process will break even and then continue to deliver savings in just two years for INEOS and three for CEMEX.

The WISP programme in South Africa is another example of industrial symbiosis in action. 

Before INEOS and CEMEX can begin their industrial symbiosis, however, new permits will be required – some materials currently classified as hazardous waste will require reclassification to be transported and re-used. Professor Van Eetvelde told SCI that it is not investments that will hamper the implementation of EPOS, but waste legislation, which presents different challenges regionally. ‘We need policymakers to come with us,’ she said.