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Research Impact

Helping to reduce emissions in the glass industry

CK Tan Impact StoryThe glass industry is facing the double challenge of regulations on reducing the permitted emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) from its melting furnaces while preparing to decarbonise by switching from fossil fuels to renewables such as biofuel and hydrogen. Through the partnership with Global Combustion System (a leading supplier of combustion equipment to the glass industry worldwide) and a number of external research organisation and glass manufacturers, the research work of Dr CK Tan and Dr Shee Meng Thai has led to the development of a revolutionary patented process of reducing NOx emissions from glass melters, by avoiding their formation within the furnace rather than removing them from flue gases. 

This method - Auxiliary Injection (AI) - may simultaneously reduce NOx emission and improve energy efficiency, whilst being able to support fuel decarbonisation, thereby future-proofing the glass industry. The technology can be easily retrofitted to existing melters and has lower CAPEX and OPEX than the alternatives. USW has been the driving force behind the development of novel furnace modelling tools, which facilitated the development and exploitation of this AI technology. To date, demonstration of the AI technology on a number of end-fired glass melting furnaces has shown the potential to reduce NOx below the regulatory limit of 600 mg/nm3. USW has successfully attracted a further research grant from Innovate UK to investigate the feasibility of transferring this Low-NOx technology to other industries such as steel making.

Contact: [email protected]
Area: Mechanical Engineering 

Blood oxygen monitors developed for patients with Covid-19 

Engineering researchers have developed an innovative blood oxygen monitor, after supplies of this key device became limited as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The device, known as a pulse oximeter, was designed to be manufactured in Wales and break away from the standard oximeter supply chains, effectively eliminating future sourcing bottlenecks. Researchers at the University of South Wales developed it in collaboration with Panasonic UK and clinicians in Hywel Dda University Health Board.

The pulse oximeter clamps onto to a patient’s finger, allowing clinicians to monitor the level of oxygen in the bloodstream and, importantly, the performance of their lungs. The university team identified key sources of measurement errors that occur, and in so doing were able to innovate a new highly accurate approach that can be implemented cheaply. The device provides high accuracies at lower oxygen levels, which is an essential requirement for effective Covid-19 treatment. 

Nigel Copner, Professor of Optoelectronics,
who led the team of researchers

Normally this level of accuracy is only achievable with far more costly approaches, so the device has potential for deployment in community settings, enabling clinicians to remotely assess Covid 19 patients whilst they self-isolate at home. A clinician could remotely monitor the performance of a patient’s lungs in order to determine appropriate and early life-saving treatment, such as CPAP to support breathing.

The team of researchers managed to turn around the concept from first principles to prototype in just two weeks. 20 prototypes have been developed and have passed the rigorous manufacturing test EMC. The pulse oximeter has also been submitted for a fast-tracked MHRA (Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approval, so that the NHS and other care providers can use it as soon as required. 

Nigel Copner, Professor of Optoelectronics at University of South Wales, said: “We wanted to be able to use our experience and knowledge of optoelectronics and engineering to develop something that could be of real use during the pandemic. After discussions, it became evident that we could really help the NHS by developing a superior low-cost pulse oximeter that could be manufactured locally, avoiding potential bottlenecks for demand, cutting delivery times and creating a new supply chain within Wales and the UK. We have not only achieved these goals, but have also delivered a significant innovative step that allows high performance at a low cost, thereby enabling widespread deployment in the community to save lives.”

Contact: [email protected]
Area: Wireless and Optoelectronics Research and Innovation Centre 

Industrial trial on unfired bricks incorporating industrial waste at a brick factory at Ewenny near Bridgend, in South Wales, UK

Global resurgence of soil-based construction

Professor John Kinuthia’s research is into the development of sustainable building and construction materials by utilising natural, industrial, and agricultural waste and by-product materials has informed the resurgence on soil-based construction at the global level, as evidenced by John’s award of the prestigious Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation on unfired clay systems. This has raised the profile of the soil-technology and Civil Engineering at USW to the international stage. Further recognition has accrued from engagement with, and service to, industry by offering accredited materials testing at USW's Advanced Materials Testing Centre (AMTeC). AMTeC is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), which has helped to embed John’s research work in industry. 

Soil has immense potential in sustainable construction, not only due to its abundance and low cost, but also in its ability to work in a synergistic manner with a variety of natural, industrial, and agricultural waste streams. Soil-based materials developed at USW have been considered for application in a wide range of high impact projects, from foundation layers for high profile projects such as the High Speed rail project (HS2) in the United  Kingdom, to the provision of low-cost housing in developing countries. 

Industrial trials at brick-making plants at Stewartby, Bedfordshire in England, and at Ewenny, near Bridgend in Wales, have demonstrated feasibility of industrial scale production of unfired clay bricks. Further deployment of soil-based novel materials in Africa to provide new homes at lower cost has been supported by UNESCO, with field trial in Kenya and Cameroon. In addition, funding by the Academy of Medical Sciences is currently informing Kenya’s Vision 2030 in formulating strategies to expedite the provision of large-scale low-cost social housing for urban populations. In Cameroon, the initial funding by UNESCO has helped in the development of code of practice and standards for soil-based materials. Multiple recognitions by The Royal Society, The Academy of Medical Sciences via the by the prestigious Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), and by UNESCO has clearly propelled the research work at USW to global relevance and recognition. 

Facilitating developed countries to diversify approaches towards meeting the Kyoto protocol emission targets by utilising industrial waste streams such as from the manufacture of steel, recycling of aluminium and burning of coal for example evidences significant impact. For developing countries, as demonstrated in Kenya and Cameroon, ability to make real progress towards sustainable infrastructural development by utilising agricultural waste from the growing of coffee, sugarcane, rice and palms oil among other crops further validates research at USW in its contribution towards the address of global challenges, and enthuses research in both developed and developing nations. 

Contact: [email protected]
Area: Advanced Materials Testing Centre (AMTeC)