Aerofoil Energy and Williams Advanced Engineering: combining forces for energy efficient fridges

AerofoilThe worlds of retail refrigeration and Formula One engineering united in 2015, when technology company Aerofoil Energy partnered with Williams Advanced Engineering, the technology and engineering services arm of the Williams Group. Together they developed an innovation that dramatically reduces the energy consumption of supermarket fridges – a solution that many retailers were crying out for.

The partners' success continued, when in 2016, they won an IET Innovation Award for Horizontal InnovationTM. We caught up with Aerofoil Energy founder Paul McAndrew to find out what's happened since…

For readers who haven't heard of you, remind us of your innovation and the problem it's trying to solve

The fundamental issue with supermarket fridges is that the front-facing side of them is completely open. To keep them cool, there's therefore an air curtain that blows from the top of the fridge to the bottom where there is grill that is supposed to recall the air.

The cold air is dense and heavy, though, so much of it falls out into the aisle and the fridge has to replace it with newly-cooled air. This makes supermarket fridges incredibly energy hungry — they're by far the biggest energy consumer in food retail.

There is debate over whether supermarket fridges should have doors. While there are arguments in favour, ostensibly due to energy efficiency, the reality is that they don't work very well when shoppers open them frequently, plus they tend to have a negative impact on trade.

Our solution is to fit aerofoils to the shelves of open fridges — and even fridges with doors for that matter — to improve temperature performance and reduce energy consumption.

Tell us more about how your innovation works

When the air moves in a stream over the aerofoil, the aerofoil bends the air back in, straightens it and takes the turbulence out of it.

By the time the cold air reaches the bottom of the fridge, the air curtain is still very strong and in a coherent vertical plane. A lot more of it therefore goes back into the return grill, rather than drifting out into the supermarket aisle.

How has your innovation progressed?

AerofoilWilliams took Aerofoil Energy's initial idea of using aerofoils in fridges, applied their advanced facilities and team of aero- and thermo-dynamacists, and made it a lot better.

They also assisted in the design of the fixing bracket, applying the same discipline to the installation process as they might do to a Formula One pitstop. This has increased the speed and efficiency of our operations, particularly important when we are working in live trading stores or in the middle of the night.

By the time we entered the Innovation Awards, we were already talking to major retailers, going through trials and testing with them to prove that the product worked.  This overcame any initial scepticism that such a simple device could save so much energy.

A year after winning the Innovation Award, we rolled out aerofoils in Sainsbury's. We're in about 1,400 of their stores now and we're the design standard on all of their new fridges.

Other retailers who've adopted the technology include Asda, the Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, SSP Group, WHSmith and Boots. We're running trials with other major UK retailers and are now focusing on top US retailers, so we hope to announce more major clients soon.

In just shy of a 12-month period, we've gone from sales of a few thousand pounds to over £8.9million in the last financial year.

Has anything else changed since you won the Innovation Award?

We've partnered with Williams on our Vortex project, modelling a virtual fridge in a virtual laboratory. Project Vortex has enabled us to develop 10 supplementary pieces of technology to complement the aerofoil and make fridges even more energy efficient.

The aerofoil will always remain the gamechanger in terms of saving energy, but if we add in these other technologies, we predict that we can get this up to 57%. That's worth tens of millions of pounds for supermarkets and would make these fridges at least as efficient as those with glass doors.

Has winning the IET Innovation Award made a difference to your journey?

Getting that recognition from the IET certainly elevates the company's status and provides validation for the new technology, showing that it has been recognised by fellow engineers and people from academia. We can now proudly say to customers that we are an award-winning technology.

Winning has given us a boost — it's been great to see people responding to our win on social media and taking an interest in our product.

What advice would you give to other start-ups considering entering this year's awards?

Go for it! Even if you don't win, it's an experience, you get to see other new technologies and you may get noticed. It also forces you to look at your own technology through a critical lens and can help in the development process.  Our own aerofoil is a better product as a result.

If you've got a good innovation and you're confident in it, why not showcase it?

If you'd like an opportunity to showcase and gain recognition for your work, enter the IET Innovation Awards today.

Desolentor: developing technology to fight the water crisis

DesolentorSolving the world's water crisis is the preoccupation of start-up co-founders Alexei Levene and William Janssen. With a small, but strong team of engineers, inventors and field workers, they've created Desolenator, a product which uses solar power - in an energy efficient way - to create clean drinking water.

In 2015, they won an IET Innovation Award for Start-ups, so we caught up with them to see where their win and their hard work has taken them.

For readers who haven't heard of you, remind us of your innovation and the problem it's trying to solve

If you look at water globally, there's about a billion people who don't have access to clean water and the UN estimate is that by 2030, half the world won't have reliable access to clean water. At the same time, nearly 98% of the earth's water is in our seas and oceans and less than 1% is available for drinking. So we say that desalination — the process of removing salt from seawater to make it drinkable — has to be a big part of providing the world's future water supply.

The problem is that desalination requires a lot more energy than conventional water treatment processes, making it expensive and a contributor to carbon emissions. So what we are pioneering is sustainable desalination — our solution is Desolenator.

Tell us more about how your innovation works

It uses solar power in a novel way. A typical solar panel is only around 15% efficient at turning solar irradiance into electricity, the rest of the input is wasted as heat.

Desolenator uses this 'waste heat' to warm up the water in a reservoir to 95 degrees. This hot water then passes into a small internal vessel, where the electrical energy from the solar panel is used to boil the water. The resulting distilled water vapour is condensed to produce clean drinking water.

 How has your innovation progressed?

DesolenatorThe product we entered into the Innovation Awards was our household system for homes, rooftops and gardens. This was developed from the first prototype we worked on in my garden, when I was living in South India.

Since then, through various wins, advances and pivots, we've developed a community site system. This is a modular system that can produce between 5,000-1 million litres of water per day and can support whole communities, industrial areas and hotels.

Has anything else changed since you won the Innovation Award?

We raised a funding round last year, which was not easy given that there's not a huge ecosystem in the UK for hardware start-ups. We brought on our lead investor, the CEO of a desalination company and one of the most respected people in the industry. We also partnered with water authorities and won projects with some major bluechip companies around the world.

Now we are piloting our community site system in five countries — Cambodia, Dubai, Kenya, India and the Canary Islands.

Has winning an IET Innovation Award made a difference to your journey?

The IET is very respected globally. Having the credibility that comes with a win from such a respected institution has helped, in an indirect way. Some very interesting conversations came out of the competition.

Thinking back to when you entered…did you have any reservations?

We're very selective about entering competitions because they take time and energy away from actual work. We'd only look at awards where we saw real value, either monetary value or industry credibility.

I knew the IET from when I was living in India as one of the main engineering institutions in the world. All of us agreed that there was value in its credibility and becoming part of its community and ecosystem.

What advice would you give to other start-ups entering this year's awards?

I think it's best to enter without any expectations. Once you've decided to do it, just do it and if you win, great, and if you don't, then that's fine too. A lot of people try for things and if they don't work, they let it stop them in their tracks or slow them down.

Secondly, if you're lucky enough to be shortlisted or win, maximise the opportunities available. There were a number of meetings that came out of the win for us. People (who generally had a deep interest in engineering) heard about us and approached us directly. Be ready for those kinds of meetings and seize those opportunities!

Gain more industry credibility with an IET Innovation Award — enter this year's competition today.


IntelliDigest: Solving the global challenges of food and plastic waste


For hospitality businesses, disposing of food waste can be expensive and an environmental concern.

But does it need to be? Start-up IntelliDigest thinks not, proposing a future where businesses use technology to monitor, reduce or upcycle their unavoidable food waste into bio-gas, crockery and packaging.

IntelliDigest, based at Heriot Watt University, entered their prototype for recycling unavoidable food waste (IntelliAD) into our Innovation Awards in 2017. They came away with an award in the Energy category and since then, have developed a new product iDigest.

We caught up with IntelliDigest's Founder and Managing Director, Ifeyinwa Kanu, to find out how their innovation has evolved and how winning an Innovation Award has contributed to their progress.

For readers who haven't heard of you, remind us of your innovation and the problem it's trying to solve.

There are several problems with food waste disposal. Up to 70% of the resource content (nutrients, water, energy) in food waste is lost during storage and transportation, before it is even recycled or sent to landfill. Plus, more than 50% (6 million tonnes) of food waste generated in the UK each year is sent to landfill because it cannot be separated.

Food-related businesses are under pressure to meet EU and UK targets for recycling biodegradable waste. If they're producing more than 5kg of food waste, they must have a waste management plan, which typically involves paying a company to handle and separate food waste.

Ifey Kanu Our initial focus was to enable businesses to recycle unavoidable food waste onsite at the earliest opportunity — to recover bio-gas for clean energy, save money and show compliance with regulation.

Over time, we've shifted focus to converting unavoidable food waste into high-value biochemicals. These can be converted into bio-crockeries and bio-packaging that is completely degradable. These could replace single-use plastic – an increasing threat to our environment, landfill and ocean.

Tell us more about how your innovation works

IntelliAD, the prototype we entered into the Innovation Awards, is an ultra-small-scale anaerobic food waste digester for onsite waste treatment. It's designed for food-related businesses such as restaurants, hospitals and schools.

A biochemical process, automated through sensor networks and intelligent control, recycles the unavoidable food waste into high-quality bio-gas, which is converted into clean energy for the business.

An integrated sensor network provides the business with valuable data. This includes information on potential sources of food waste (so the business can make efforts to reduce it), as well as evidence of profitability and complying with regulations.

How has your innovation progressed?

We've responded to customer demand to create iDigest which converts unavoidable food waste into high-value biochemicals for bio-crockeries and bio-packaging. We will lease this product to businesses in the hospitality and food sector, including schools and universities.

What plans do you have for the future of your innovation?

We see a future where iDigest will be the sustainability mark for businesses in the hospitality sector. Industry leaders will sponsor iDigest to be on kerbsides, where it will upcycle the brand's used food and drink packages to high-value bio-materials.

Has winning an IET Innovation Award made a difference to your journey?

I entered the Innovation Awards because I was positive that we have a disruptive product, which would benefit from the outstanding PR associated with participating in a world-class competition.

And we did benefit – winning the award attracted some interest from office canteens and other businesses. It also helped us to secure grant funding.

Thinking back to when you entered, did you have any reservations?

To be frank, I was positive about entering, but not certain we were going to win until the moment we heard we were the overall winner for the Energy category. The competition was stiff, so we were pleased to emerge as one of the winners.

What advice would you give to other start-ups considering entering this year's awards?

Please go for it — it is a great experience and if you win, the PR is invaluable.

Attract more interest and grant funding for your innovation – enter the IET Innovation Awards today.


Ubiqutek: cutting out chemicals in farming and gardening

UbiqutekIn an ideal world, farmers would not use chemicals to produce food, nor would gardeners use them to manage green spaces. Start-up Ubiqutek, branded as RootWave, has its eyes firmly fixed on this ideal world, proposing an electric technology that offers a non-chemical, sustainable alternative to herbicides and other agrochemicals.

When Ubiqutek won our Innovation Award for Sustainability in 2017, their technology was patent-pending. So we caught up with CEO Andrew Diprose to find out how their products and business have developed…

For readers who haven't heard of you, remind us of your innovation and the problem it's trying to solve

The world's growing population means an ever growing need to control weeds for food infrastructure and aesthetic reasons. This market is dominated by chemical herbicides, which might not be available in the future. Firstly nature is fighting back and becoming resistant to them. Secondly regulators are recognising the health, environmental and public concerns around herbicides and are starting to ban or restrict them. Thirdly, there's a lot of litigation against agrochemical companies related to health issues.

What we're looking at is a non-chemical, sustainable alternative to chemical herbicides.

Tell us more about how your innovation works

We use electricity to zap weeds. Our technology creates an electrical circuit and the natural resistance of the weed turns this energy into heat, which boils it inside out, from the root upwards.

It's more efficient than other thermal alternatives such as hot water or foam as it generates heat directly in the weed, so there is no waste to the ambient environment. It also generates heat throughout the weed including the root, unlike other methods where it must propagate down resulting in untreated roots. We've also changed the waveforms so that it kills weeds whilst limiting the risk of shock.

How has your innovation progressed?

UbiqutekWhen we entered the Innovation Awards we had a professional handweeder, which we've since patented, refined and launched globally. This is for parks and gardens to manage invasive weeds and spot weed.

We're currently developing numerous agricultural solutions — these are bigger machines that you'd pull behind a tractor to spot weed amongst cereal, vegetable and other food crops.

Has anything else changed since you won the Innovation Award?

We're planning for a future where, wherever chemicals are used, we can offer alternative solutions. There will be lots of product development and marketing over the coming years to address this global challenge.

Has winning an IET Innovation Award made a difference to your journey?

It's a prestigious award. Just by having the award, it's added credibility to our business, our technology and what we're trying to achieve. Also, entering the awards was a great opportunity to showcase our novel use of electricity to a relevant audience.

Thinking back to when you entered…did you have any reservations?

No – you have to put time into these things if you want to get something out of them. I can't remember the application process being too onerous, so for a couple of hours of your time, I think it's worth the investment. 

What advice would you give to other start-ups entering this year's awards?

I think the Innovation Awards are great and I would advise any start-up that fits the IET's criteria to apply. If you believe in what you're doing, take the opportunity to win an award and receive the recognition and marketing coverage that comes with it.

Gain more industry credibility with an IET Innovation Award — enter this year's competition today.


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