Currently, industry uses excessive water, power and additives for cleaning. For example, it can take up to 100 tonnes of water to produce 1 tonne of clean wool after shearing. Many industrial processes also generate large quantities of contaminated run-off. The water from hosing down an abattoir represents a real health risk and cannot be allowed to enter the water supply. Purifying run-off is costly – each cubic metre of water used for cleaning in the nuclear industry can cost around £10,000 to subsequently treat.
Professor Tim Leighton and Dr Peter Birkin's device works with cold water, minimal additives and consumes as much electrical power as a light bulb. Its application will be wide – licenses have already been sold to a number of industries to look at cleaning in food preparation, hospitals, manufacturing and the home. The new technology consumes less water and power than the established competitor technologies.
Talking about the need for such a technology, Professor Leighton says:
"Society runs on its ability to clean. Ineffective cleaning leads to food poisoning; failure of manufactured products such as precision watches and microchips; and poor construction – from shipbuilding to space shuttles – since dirty surfaces do not bond. The impact in healthcare is huge – hospital-acquired infections, from instruments that aren't properly cleaned, cost the NHS £1 billion per year. There's a very obvious need for technologies that improve our ability to clean while saving on our most important resources, water and energy."
In recognition of their invention, Professor Leighton and Dr Birkin were today (09 November) awarded the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2011.
Using the £250,000 award from the Royal Society, the team will develop products based on an ultrasonic nozzle which can fit on the end of a tap or hose. The device uses less water and power than the equivalent pressure washer (approximately 2 litres/minute compared to 20 litres/minute and less than 200 W compared to 2kW). It is also far less damaging as the stream pressure is less that 1/100th that of a pressure washer. Another advantage is that it generates far less runoff and aerosol (tiny atmospheric particles of water that can carry contaminates into the air to then settle and contaminate other surfaces). As it is able to use cold water, energy is saved on heating water.
Power washing generates large volumes of contaminated run-off and aerosols, presenting a hazard when used e.g. cleaning sewage systems or nuclear contamination. One of the main pieces of equipment currently used for industrial cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning baths, can only clean objects small enough to fit in them and the devices to be cleaned sit in a soup of contaminated liquid. Neither power washing (high-power pressure washing) nor ultrasonic cleaning baths can easily be scaled up and neither can be used on delicate materials such as hands or salad.
The new nozzle generates both bubbles and ultrasound. Both travel down the water stream to the dirty surface and there the bubbles act as microscopic 'smart scrubbers', seeking and entering crevices to remove dirt there using shear forces in the same way that currents in a babbling brook can strip off riverbank soil . The device can be used at a high-power and a low-power setting – the latter being suitable for delicate products like hands and foodstuffs.
Licences to enable companies to bring the technology into their product lines have been negotiated with a number of companies to explore cleaning products for hospital hygiene, dentistry, food preparation, manufacturing and the power industries.
Dr Birkin says of the award:
"The Brian Mercer award represents a significant milestone for the development of this technology and its possible exploitation. There is a clear gap in the funding system with ground breaking technology produced by universities, unexploited by industry. It is also difficult to find other suitable sources to take the technology further. It is in this situation that our invention found itself.
"In these trying times for innovative research, the foresight of the Royal Society to regularly sponsor and support these initiatives, should be congratulated. It is also pleasing that a significant 'blue skies' research effort within our team, over the last 10-15 year time period, has led to an understanding of the basic physical and chemical processes that underpin this technology. The Brian Mercer award, as well as being timely, will significantly enhance the chances of this novel technology making the leap from the lab and into wider society."
Professor Leighton adds:
"Support for step changing innovation is vital if we are to have marketable technology to address the problems that will face society on the 10-50 year timescale, rather than just responding to today's problems."
The Brian Mercer Awards for Innovation were established by the Royal Society in 2001 following a bequest from the late Dr Brian Mercer, an enthusiastic inventor and entrepreneur. The awards aim to encourage these qualities in the next generation of scientists and provide a grant of £250,000 to develop an already proven concept or prototype into a near-market product.
Glenn Harris | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy