Advanced fluid flow modelling improves the efficiency of industrial burners
Submitting InstitutionAston University
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Applied Mathematics
Engineering: Interdisciplinary Engineering
Summary of the impact
Using advanced mathematics and numerical modelling we have demonstrated
how fundamental understanding of laminar-turbulent transitions in fluid
flows can save energy. From 2008 we helped the cleantech company, Maxsys
Fuel Systems Ltd, to understand and improve their technology and
demonstrate to customers how it can reduce fuel use by 5-8%. Customers
including Ford Motor, Dow Chemical and Findus testify to the impact from
financial savings and reduced carbon emissions obtained by installing
Maxsys products on industrial burners used widely in many industrial
sectors including automotive, bulk chemicals and food. In 2010, Selas Heat
Technology Company bought the Maxsys brand to invest in this success.
Nature of research insights
Since the early 2000's, we (Generalis and the team at Aston University)
have used a variety of cutting-edge techniques to analyse the effects of
turbulence on fluid mixing and energy transfer. In-house deterministic
modelling tools can pinpoint the transition between uniform laminar and
irregular turbulent flow (key references 3.1-3.2). In our unique approach,
we separate the flow into basic uniform laminar flow and the infinitesimal
disturbances that promote the descent of the flow into turbulence. We then
solve for the disturbances by expanding orthogonal polynomials as harmonic
expressions. This allows us to identify rapidly the nature of the
different states as the flow bifurcates sequentially from the laminar
Flows subject to internal forces, which occur in a number of industrial
applications, present an especially complex challenge in fluid dynamics.
We modelled the interplay between buoyant forces driven by volumetric
heating, inertial forces driven by either a constant flux (closed system)
or a constant pressure gradient (open system), and the viscous forces
which destabilise the flow as it bifurcates (3.1, 3.2). These models have
contributed fundamental knowledge regarding the transition to turbulence
of volumetrically-heated flows, allowing us to address a variety of
Models for Poiseuille flow were essential to the success of the R&D
project for Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd (3.1, 3.2). We extended the work on
volumetric heating to include magnetic forces in Hagen-Poiseuille flow in
pipes. This enabled us to specify the optimal orientation of the magnets
and the influence they had on the flow, thus allowing significant
improvements in the fuel efficiency of industrial burners to be realised.
This breakthrough in energy saving was the direct outcome of an EPSRC
Industrial CASE award with Maxsys, in which PhD student Ben Tocher
(2007-11) developed numerical models to tackle the influence of the
magnetic field on the flow in the pre-combustion treater of the Maxsys
burner. The development built on several years of international
collaboration focussed on understanding elusive structures at the heart of
turbulence. Working with Prof Fujimura of Tottori University, Japan,
Generalis had assessed the limits of modelling techniques used to
characterise transitions to turbulence (3.1-3.3). Generalis and Itano
(Visiting Scholar) later confirmed the existence of a hairpin vortex
structure using the models and techniques thus developed (3.4, 3.5). These
fundamental insights were essential to the modelling for Maxsys because
they contributed to the extent that Generalis' code could be applied and
the appropriate techniques used in the search of the transition region of
turbulent flow in pipes. Following these pioneering works, Generalis was
awarded eight grants including two Marie-Curie Fellowships (Nos. 274367
& 298891, ~550k€), a Leverhulme Trust project grant (RPG-410, ~£175k
with PI Dr Yassir Makkawi), a Visiting Professorship (No. 22195, £72k) and
a RAEng Distinguished Visiting Fellow. All these initiatives have expanded
the scope of turbulence that Dr Generalis' codes can model. Funding won
since the publication of 3.1 and 3.2 totals about £750k.
Dr Generalis (Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader, 1996-date) has worked with
Prof K Fujimura (Visiting Scholar, 2007-08 and Royal Academy of
Engineering Distinguished Visiting Fellow, 2012), Prof M Nagata (Visiting
Scholar, 1999-2005), Dr T Itano (Visiting Scholar, 2006-2011) and Dr B
Tocher (EPSRC Case studentship 2007-2011 with Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd,
Aston PhD awarded in 2013) to develop numerical techniques for pinpointing
the transition between laminar and turbulent flow and to apply the
techniques to everyday engineering problems.
References to the research
* indicate three papers that best demonstrate research quality
3.1 Nagata, M. and GENERALIS, S. C. (2002). Transition in convective
flows heated internally. Journal of heat transfer, 124 (4), pp. 635-642
3.2 *GENERALIS, S. C. and Nagata, M. (2003). Transition in homogeneously
heated inclined plane parallel shear flows. Journal of heat transfer, 125
(5), pp. 795-804 (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.1599370).
3.3 GENERALIS, S. C. and Fujimura, K. (2009). Range of validity of weakly
non-linear theory in Rayleigh-Bénard problem. Journal of Physical Society
of Japan, 78 (8), 084401 (http://jpsj.ipap.jp/link?JPSJ/78/084401/).
Key grants awarded to Generalis
- EPSRC Industrial CASE award with Maxsys "The effect of magnetic
field coupling to plane parallel shear flows " £81k (2007-11).
- Marie-Curie Fellowships (Nos. 274367 & 298891) "Pre-chaotic
bifurcation behaviour of strongly non linear equilibrium solutions for
incompressible volumetrically heated shear flows (VHSF) in a long
channel — T2T-VHF" (2011-2014) and "Transition to turbulence in
ventilated double glazing — T2T-VDG" (2012-2015), total ~550k€
- Leverhulme Trust project grant (RPG-410) with PI Dr Yassir Makkawi, "Wet
and dry particle flow at the intermediate regime" (2011) ~£175k
- Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship (No. 22195,) "Optical
Turbulence" (2012), £72k
- RAEng Distinguished Visiting Fellow. "Transition in Ventilated Double
Glazing" (2011) £5,754 Funding won since the publication of 3.1 and 3.2
totals about £750k.
Details of the impact
Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd have exploited advanced mathematical techniques
developed at Aston for modelling the influence of turbulence on fluid flow
in their industrial heating systems. The impacts created are therefore
business benefits to Maxsys and Selas, particularly through sales of their
processing equipment, plus the consequential impacts of reduced fuel
consumption for major international companies using the equipment with the
associated benefits to the environment.
Timeline and process
Maxsys developed a product where magnetic fields modify the flow field
upstream of a furnace burner to save fuel (5.1-5.3). Following initial
success with this technology, they wished to improve the efficiency of
their industrial burners for economic and environmental reasons. Maxsys
sought academic expertise to understand and improve the technology and to
help communicate its benefits to customers. In May 2007, Advantage West
Midlands introduced Maxsys MD / Commercial Director (5.1) to Dr Generalis
via Aston's Business Partnership Unit. Dr Generalis was able to describe
the flows in the device and explain the underlying physical phenomena.
Advantage West Midlands EnviroINNOVATE funded Aston to perform a
feasibility study for Maxsys, paving the way for the EPSRC CASE
Studentship. The knowledge gained through the collaborations helped Maxsys
to expand their customer base such that orders grew to £1M in 2011 (5.4).
Nature and extent of the impact
The impact is from understanding how turbulent flow phenomena can improve
the operation and efficiency of commercial products — in this case
enabling Maxsys to understand how their pre-combustion treater reduced
fuel usage (5.2-5.3). The Aston in-house numerical toolbox (3.2) further
enabled the researchers to advise on optimising configurations of the
magnets acting on the fluid flowing through the treater upstream of the
burner (5.5). This is because the software toolbox used and developed by
Generalis and his team can determine the influence of different forces in
turbulent flow with far greater accuracy than commercial software
packages. The application of a magnetic field to the flow modifies the
velocity profile by making it more uniform across the pipe diameter and it
also increases the stability of the flow (5.5). By elucidating this
mechanism, the studies enabled Maxsys to fine tune the magnetic field to
give a cleaner, hotter burn yielding reductions of 5-8% in fuel
consumption and in carbon emissions (5.3, 5.6).
Beneficiaries Concerning Environmental Impact
Significant fuel savings of both gas and oil concomitantly reduced carbon
emissions and gave quick returns on investments with payback in 24 months
(5.3, 5.6). Maxsys audits fuel usage before and after installation to
assess the environmental and economic impacts of their customers' fuel use
and carbon emissions (5.6). The audited fuel savings also contribute to
reductions in the Climate Change Levy and meeting emissions reduction
targets for the Emissions Trading Scheme and the National Allocation Plan
(5.6). Therefore, besides reporting precise financial benefits, users of
Maxsys burners are helping to meet national targets and to provide
environmental benefits to society.
On the back of nearly £1M of orders in 2011, Maxsys was purchased by Selas
Heat Technology Company LLC in November 2011 for an initial investment of
£500,000. This allowed Maxsys to fulfil orders placed and secure its
future with a truly global market reach. Selas Heat Technology Company now
markets Maxsys Fuel Systems in America, as one of their branded products
(5.4). Maxsys has offices in North America, Benelux, Germany and Japan
The improved product has sold in many industrial sectors including
automotive, brewing, chemicals, dairy, food and drink, insulation,
minerals, health care providers, packaging and paper, pharmaceuticals,
plastics, steel and textiles (5.6). Using the technology has allowed
individual end users to make significant fuel savings worth up to £240k
per year (5.3).
Customer Testimonies Overview (5.6)
- Heavy users of fuel such as Mondi and Union Papertech, who produce
packaging and paper, reported savings up to 7430 MWh and 85000 m3
per year of gas, respectively. Mondi reported that their annual savings
were equivalent to CO2 emissions reductions of nearly 1500
- Goonvean, who extract kaolin as their main product, installed twenty
systems on their gas-fired dryers and reduced their CO2
emission by about 560 tonnes per year (equivalent to 1000 MWh of gas).
- Toray Textiles reported a 5% reduction of gas used per tonne of steam
produced, which in the 20 day monitoring period corresponded to a
reduction of 12400 m3 of gas.
- Tensar, which produces ground stabilisation technology, reported
savings of up to £10000 per year in fuel costs.
- Ford Motor reported annual savings of 2.4 MWh of gas.
- Findus saved 6.6% of their pre-fitted annual consumption of 2.4
million m3 of gas per year.
- Dow Chemical Company cited a 5% reduction in fuel use and payback in
10 months — a significant step towards meeting their ambitious emission
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1 Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd 3 & 4, Conwy House, St Georges Court,
Donnington, Telford, Shropshire, TF2 7BF (http://www.maxsysltd.com/company/the-team;
5.2 Maxsys technology (http://www.maxsysltd.com/technology).
5.3 Reported benefits of using Maxsys Fuel Systems (http://www.maxsysltd.com/).
5.4 Maxsys Fuel Systems Ltd was bought by the Selas Heat Technology
Company LLC in 2011 (http://www.maxsysltd.com/news/selas-acquires-maxsys;
http://www.selas.com/selas-brands) Selas retains the Maxsys
brand as part of its product range in a global market
5.5 Final Report produced for Maxsys and used in promotional literature:
Comparisons of Transitions in Plane Poiseuille Flow and Plane
Magnetohydrodynamic Flow, Aston University, July 2010.
5.6 Customers of Maxsys (http://www.maxsysltd.com/customers).
5.7 Locations of Maxsys (http://www.maxsysltd.com/company/locations).