There are a number of projects focusing on the practical amalgamation of engineering, technology and management know-how that makes Cranfield a special place. Find out about how our Energy and Power theme is contributing to the low carbon economy from artificial intelligence, policy appraisal, new tech and materials science.  

AI recognising materials in waste

Artificial Intelligence is now in use for in many sectors. Using computers to learn and identify patterns is helping diagnose disease, drive vehicles and develop personalised health treatment.

Research led by Dr Stuart Wagland and Prof Phil Longhurst (within Energy and Power’s Centre for Climate and Environmental Protection) is introducing AI to the waste management industry. Their research team is using artificial neural networks with standard camera images to identify materials in mixed waste streams.

The waste industry traditionally relies on people and a series of mechanical processes to select materials for recycling from mixed waste streams. Working in dirty and conditions is potentially hazardous. This work uses AI developed at Cranfield to identify materials from a mixture so that these can then be selected and treated accordingly, without human intervention. This enables smarter waste sorting for optimal recycling and waste-derived fuel production. The project team are promoting this work to remove recyclable materials from waste streams, exclude contaminants from Waste to Energy processes (WtE) to optimise energy from waste systems, and to promote effective recycling.

Connecting the dots to improve energy efficiency in industry

Industrial use of electricity and heat is responsible for 46% of greenhouse gas emission globally. In the UK industry consumes around one-fourth of the total energy use and generates around 32% of emissions. To tackle the imminent impacts of severe climate change due to these emissions, the Centre for Energy Systems and Strategy is working with industry to reduce their demand for energy by increasing energy efficiency.

To this effort, we are leading an investigation on utilising waste heat recovery with thermal power cycles and heat exchangers, biomass, steam systems improvement, and fuel switching. Our findings show that with a combination of different energy efficient technologies and methods, a 15% improvement of energy efficiency in industry (especially from Iron and Steel and Food and Drinks sectors) is technically possible.

However, improving the energy efficiency in UK industry has been hindered due to some inter-related technical, economic, regulatory and social barriers. The team at Cranfield have identified a number of barriers such as high investment cost and payback periods, lack of demonstration projects, distortion of policies, lack of business models, etc. We are now leading research that can connect all the missing dots in energy efficiency, starting from the development of integrated models and optimisation for waste heat recovery, biomass, and oxy-fuel combustion in reheating process of iron and steel plants to the development of innovative business models to accelerate the diffusion of energy efficiency in UK industry.

Generating electricity and saving water – joint objectives of the WASCOP project

The team within the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems at Cranfield is completing work on the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project, WASCOP – “Water Saving for Solar Concentrated Power plants (CSP)”, further enhancing Cranfield’s reputation as the UK’s largest research team working on this technology.

CSP plants require large amounts of direct sunlight and therefore are to be found in increasing numbers in the world’s desert and the sun-belt regions. Water is a precious resource in such locations and the cleaning of the solar collecting mirrors requires water to remove sand and dust. Water is also required for the steam turbine. The WASCOP project investigated these issues and funds the development of new technologies to reduce water usage.

As an example of work completed so far, the image below shows the testing of porous dust barriers to reduce the number of airborne sand and dust particles entering the solar plant. These aerodynamically shaped barriers were designed and optimized using CFD simulations, tested in a wind tunnel using 3D printed models, before being scaled up for outdoor testing at the world’s largest solar institute (Plataforma Solar de Almeria - PSA) in Spain. Results indicate that up to 50% of particles are stopped at the barriers. Work to scale up to full height (7m high) is continuing with the new SOLWATT project, within which Cranfield remains a key and most significant partner.

Dust barriers for CSP plants

See the EU project web sites: https://wascop.eu/ and https://solwatt.eu/ 

And the accompanying video https://www.euronews.com/2019/05/20/quenching-the-thirst-of-concentrated-solar-power-plants 

Making traditional energy processes as efficient as possible

With the recent changes in power generation portfolio of the UK and across the developed world, driven by climate change concerns / UN-SDG’s, there is a renewed emphasis on maximizing the performance and efficiency, and minimizing emissions, when using non-non-renewable sources. The move to a fully renewable energy system is still many decades off and in the interim reduction of emissions is critical for the whole planet.

Within the Energy and Power Theme, the Centre for Thermal Energy Systems and Materials is supporting this through its work on evaluating and modelling the degradation of the materials that are used for critical gas turbine components (such as blades and vanes). The use of alternative fuels in industrial gas turbines can change the operating environments (in terms of both bulk species and trace contaminants) leading to increases in the deposition and corrosion of critical components in these systems. We need systems that can operate at high temperatures and at high efficiency with high reliability, not an easy combination of requirements.

This research is being led by Prof Nigel Simms and Dr Joy Sumner and includes modelling of the environments generated at component surfaces when using novel/alternative fuels in new operating conditions, evaluating the impact of the corrosive conditions on component materials systems (coating and alloys) and the development of improved models for the degradation of current and candidate materials. CTEM’s facilities that are being used in this research include high temperature controlled atmosphere furnaces for materials exposures in simulated environments and a unique 700 kW burner rig for exposures in more realistic dynamic environments (including arrays of cooled probes or a cascade of turbine blade aerofoils).

Most of this work is directly funded and applied by our major industrial partners from the turbine industry, and applications of the models and data include evaluation of alternative fuels, improved approaches towards materials selection and component life predictions.