Device to revolutionise the production of alternative fuels wins the Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2010

15 October 2010

Professor Will Zimmerman from the University of Sheffield was last night (14 October) awarded the Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2010 in recognition of his breakthrough work which promises to revolutionise the production of alternative renewable fuels.

One application of the fluidic oscillation technology that Professor Zimmerman is developing is in an air-lift loop bioreactor, an invention which produces miniature gas bubbles, or microbubbles, which transform biomass materials into biofuels more rapidly than larger bubbles, therefore consuming significantly less energy. The manufacturing of alternative fuels currently requires vast amounts of power and is largely uneconomic. This discovery will reduce the power used when producing biofuels by at least 20 per cent, ensuring that they can be made more commercially and environmentally viable.

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.

Speaking at the Mercer Awards ceremony, Professor Will Zimmerman, said: “We are thrilled to have our work recognised by the Royal Society’s Brian Mercer Award for Innovation. I hope the award draws more industry attention to our team’s work in generating an energy efficient method for producing alternative fuels. There are many routes to becoming green, and reducing energy consumption with the same or better performance must be the most painless.”

The air-lift loop bioreactor is currently being tested with researchers from Suprafilt in Rochdale on industrial stack gases. A pilot biofuel reactor has also been installed at a Corus steelmaking plant and they envisage that Professor Zimmerman’s technology will have a significant impact on their emissions and could eventually be rolled out globally. The device is also being tested by Yorkshire Water where they are using the bioreactor to reduce the electricity used when treating waste water. They are predicting to reduce their current energy usage by a third.