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University success at national engineering awards

Technology that could reduce the environmental impact of oil drilling and a scientific technique that can be used to help map out oil deposits, improve the accuracy of carbon dating and even detect the use of illegal steroids in athletes have scooped two national awards.

The research projects led by academics in the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Nottingham picked up the accolades at The Engineer Technology and Innovation Awards 2008.

Now in their second year, the awards recognise and reward excellence in collaboration between the UK's universities and some of its most dynamic companies.

Professor Sam Kingman and his colleague Dr John Robinson led the research which won the Environmental Technology Award. The innovative work uses microwave energy to selectively heat and evaporate sea water to enable more efficient removal of oil from waste rock produced as a by-product of oil drilling.

The research, carried out in collaboration with colleagues at the universities of Greenwich and Stellenbosch in South Africa, is based on selective heating, an analogy of the 'jam doughnut' principle in which the jam in a doughnut will heat up more quickly than the dough when heated in a microwave. Similarly, the water in the waste produced by drilling will heat up more quickly and evaporate, lifting oil droplets into the steam and be carried away.

Heat is a traditional treatment method for drilling wastes, usually by heating the bulk of the waste in a furnace or oven but the new microwave technique is far more efficient, using around six to seven times less energy.

Professor Colin Snape's work on the scientific process of hydrogen pyrolysis, in collaboration with Engineering Quality Systems and reactor engineering specialist Strata Technology, won this year's Business Support of Universities Award.

Hydrogen pyrolysis also known as HyPy was a method originally used to liquefy large quantities of coal. It uses hydrogen at a very high pressure (15MPa) and a temperature of 500C along with a catalyst containing molybdenum to strip complex mixtures of organic chemicals down to their pure carbon skeletons.

Professor Snape has been working with the industry partners to develop a professional piece of laboratory equipment for use in specialist commercial and research laboratories.

The project has even allowed Professor Snape and Nottingham research fellow Dr Will Meredith to develop new applications for HyPy, including more accurate carbon dating, in which the process strips away everything but the carbon present in the original organic matter which is used for dating an object. A further surprising application, developed in partnership with drug testing experts at Imperial College London, could see the equipment used to catch athletes using banned drugs, particularly steroids, by detecting carbon produced by the drugs in the athlete's urine sample.

The development work is being funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the teams at Nottingham, Imperial College and Strata hope to commercialise the technique in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Susan Huxtable, Director of Technology Transfer says: "The University of Nottingham has an excellent track record for generation and successful commercialisation of new ideas and an equally good track record for working in collaboration with industry. We are delighted to have won two categories of the Engineer Technology & Innovation awards along with our industry partners."

Andrew Lee, editor of The Engineer, the only magazine serving the UK's engineering community, said: "The awards, now in their second year, were set up to recognise the fantastic collaborative work undertaken by the UK's most innovative companies and its world-class universities.

"The Engineer, in conjunction with the awards main sponsor, BAE Systems, launched them because we believe this work does not always get the credit it deserves."


Contact: Emma Thorne
University of Nottingham

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