Science City Research Alliance case studies

The Science City Research Alliance has engaged over 200 businesses,
delivered 37 new programmes worth £400k and helped the University
lever a further £6m worth of additional funding. Below are examples of businesses that have benefited from our support.

SCRA-PMR1349

Heineken - getting ahead!

HEINEKEN are a major international brewer with many popular brands such as Heineken, Foster’s and Bulmers Cider. Brewers are active in minimising their CO2 emissions, including those from the fermentation process, and also in reducing the cost for disposal of process wastes such as spent grain or apple pomace. Researchers from the School of Biosciences and Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham teamed up with Heineken to investigate potential solutions for these issues.

An initial project looked into potential uses for the spent grain. Research found that it could be treated with hot compressed water to release fermentable sugars and demonstrated efficient bio-hydrogen production using these new sugars as the raw material. A second project looking into brewery CO2 showed that it can provide the carbon source for high-value edible microbes called Spirulina and that the Spirulina can share the same space as the hydrogen-producing bacteria using a new ‘beam-sharing’ technique. Before this discovery, the waste-to-hydrogen bioreactor and the CO2-to-foodstuff bioreactor would have to take up separate spaces meaning that less could be achieved on limited available ground area, whereas ‘beam-sharing’ enables an integrated, efficient CO2-abatement and waste-to-hydrogen system.

‘We set out to investigate how we could reduce and utilise our CO2 emissions in innovative ways. This work showed that the science and techniques were possible and we recognised the further potential for an integrated bioreactor to improve efficiency and reduce cost. At this early stage further development will be required to bring the bioreactor to market. I am grateful for the expertise at the University of Birmingham accessed through the SCRA Hydrogen Project, which highlighted the exciting potential.'

Richard Heathcote, Sustainable Development Manager, HEINEKEN UK Limited

Glassworks Hounsell - Reinforcing glass 

The business engagement team and scientists at the University of Birmingham have been working with precision engineering and equipment manufacturing company, Glassworks Hounsell (GWH), on a number of mutually rewarding projects. Approximately 80% of GWH’s manufacturing activity is in the glass industry, either associated with the melting of glass or the supply of the raw materials ‘delivery system’ (batch charger) to glass furnaces.

With the help of the University, who have provided knowledge and expertise in thermal modelling and advanced materials, GWH have been looking at developing a more environmentally friendly and cost effective batch charger. Improvements and alternatives to the current designs are being explored, as are the overall concepts of the Charging system. The University was also able to secure the funding for the delivery of this project through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). Further collaborative work has now been identified that will involve modelling, and evaluating, the existing and any further designs of the batch charger.

GWH have also placed two University of Birmingham students at their premises. One is looking at modernising the technical specifications, operational manuals and customer documentation and the other has helped to re-design a standard roller bearing that has been exhibiting high failure rates.

Further, the University recognised that the company could benefit from R&D Tax Relief, resulting in GWH receiving a £30k corporation tax refund.

'We are very pleased with the differing ways that the University of Birmingham has been able to support and guide us in the areas of our business where we have neither the capacity nor the resources.'

Oliver Brinkman, Technical Director at Glassworks Hounsell

European Exhaust and Catalyst Ltd - Coating success!

European Exhaust and Catalyst Ltd (EEC) manufacture stainless steel catalytic converters and recently turned to researchers at the University of Birmingham to help with the evaluation of the coatings they were using in their manufacturing processes.
Catalytic converters use an inside structure called a substrate or monolith that is coated with platinum group metals (PGM) such as platinum, palladium, rhodium and rare earth washcoat.

It is these elements that cause the chemical change to pollutants in car exhaust systems, to harmless substances such as carbon dioxide or water. A recent analysis by EEC of their production chain showed that they could gain better value by using substrates originating from China or the USA and applying a coating of the active materials (PGM) A catalyst for coating success themselves. Initially they encountered variability in the production coatings they were using and so contacted the Business Engagement team at the University of Birmingham for advice.

Working with Dr Jackie Deans from the University’s School of Chemistry, and utilising one of the many state-of-the art pieces of equipment made available through the Science City Research Alliance (SCRA)*, a Bruker S8 tiger X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Spectrometer, the Company were able to identify changes that were needed in their processes. Notably they discovered the need to reduce the particle size within their coatings from 10 microns down to 2 microns and based on these findings EEC have now invested around £30k in a new slurry mill (grinder) to produce the smaller particles.

‘The expertise of the team at the University of Birmingham has been invaluable and a real benefit to our business. We look forward to continuing this relationship to validate, control and refine current technology and develop catalyst technology for our future projects.’

Jim Slade, Product Director for EEC