Going with the (Oxford) flow
The ‘dream’ — and this applies the energy industry more than anywhere else — is to be able to do more for less.
And one Oxford-based company is working hard (though not too hard, of course) on being able to do just that.
Oxford Flow was launched last year, following the commercialisation of a new type of pressure-reducing valve originally discovered during research into jet engines at Oxford University’s Osney Thermo-Fluids Laboratory.
The innovation has been funded by Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), a new £320m fund created to support ambitious Oxford technology companies and backed by names such as Google and the Wellcome Trust.
The team behind Oxford Flow is drawn from the very best of industry and academia. CEO Simon Hombersley is the industrial entrepreneur behind energy efficient compressor Lontra and former chairman of Oxford based start-up TwentyNinety, which developed a wireless management and control system for photovoltaics, and founded the innovation consultancy Puntios.
Designer of the regulator and Oxford Flow’s technical director, Professor Tom Povey, is a former Rolls-Royce Industrial Fellow, whose work through the Osney Thermo-Fluids Laboratory has also involved projects with Siemens, Qinetiq and GKN. Professor Povey is known for his energy-saving saucepan, the Flare Pan.
Professor Povey identified the need for the valve while researching jet engines. He’d been working with high flow rates of compressed gas that, for reasons of efficiency and safety, needed to be regulated. The regulators available on the market were not precise enough so he devised a completely new method of controlling gas and developed a series of products based on this technology.
The flow “represents the first genuine innovation in this type of valve design since the Victorian age and the brilliance of it hinges on the fact it uses a direct sensing piston actuator, rather than a diaphragm to control pressure,” explains Chris Leonard, Oxford Flow’s Business Development Director. “Removing the diaphragm eliminates the main source of failure in valves,” he adds.
A typical regulator works by using a diaphragm that constantly modulates as it controls pressure, and therefore needs to be flexible in order to provide accurate control. This flexibility is normally provided by a limited range of elastomers, which, because of their elasticity, are prone to fatigue, embrittlement and erosion. This, in turn, necessitates repair and replacement. By replacing the diaphragm with a direct sensing piston actuator, the main reason for valve failure is eliminated and the design is greatly simplified.
“One side of the piston is exposed to downstream pipeline pressure, while the other side is balanced against a pressure cavity controlled by a pilot regulator,” says Leonard, “The piston actuator operates over an optimised feed-hole configuration to provide precise, stable control across the entire operating range. During operation, the piston moves inward, reducing the size of the cavity when the downstream pipeline pressure exceeds that within the pressure cavity set by the pilot regulator.
The movement of the piston actuator in closing reduces the flow rate to maintain a stable downstream pressure. When demand increases the downstream pressure falls below that set by the pilot and the reverse operation occurs, the cavity expands as the pilot feeds it, opening the flow path, which increases flow and maintains a stable downstream pressure.
The company has two devices dedicated to these industries, the IHF Series Oxford Regulator™ for Gas and IP Series Oxford PRV™ for water.
The IP Series Oxford PRV for Water combines a small size and significantly reduced weight with increased reliability. This enables operators to minimise the space required to carry out operations and greatly reduce the need for trench access over the device’s lifetime. It also means that smaller crews are required to install it and that there is no need for lifting equipment. And as it has just one moving part (and therefore less margin for error) this also minimises the need for expensive maintenance and replacement.
Similarly, the IM Series Oxford Regulator offers ultra-high flow capacity and accuracy for gas and fluid applications.
“Its use saves space because it can fit neatly between standard flanges in a wafer-type installation’” Leonard explains, adding, “The optimised flow path also has minimal restrictions, reducing turbulence and noise.” Additionally, because of its streamlined design, the device is well-equipped for handling liquids and dirty fluids such as crude oil.
Currently the team is working with several utility companies on bespoke applications of the technology and, says Leonard, it is hoped that the technology will enable businesses in the gas and water industries to improve performance and reliability, while simultaneously driving down costs.
Professor Povey has been outspoken in the past about the utility sector’s need to innovate. He told Utility Week earlier this year that, “Innovation is the aerospace sector’s ‘bread and butter’ and engineers come up with ‘wacky ideas’ that don’t come to fruition until 10 years down the line.”
It seems as though Oxford Flow is bucking this trend with gusto and changing the industry in the process. Flow regulation is a central part of performance in so many industries and these valves are a game-changer in the $3 billion pressure-regulator market and will provide a welcome platform and opportunity for future industrial control products.
Read the October 2016 issue of Energy Digital magazine
Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.