Lancaster-based engineering research and development company Oaktec was, on 7 May, awarded first prize - plus £40,000 - in winning the 2014 Shell Springboard awards, in recognition of the potential of its protype PREMO small gas engine.
The Shell Springboard programme the most promising low carbon business idea from UK-based SMEs to help scale up their products and services. In 2014, a total of £330,000 was given to nine businesses and, over the past nine years, Shell Springboard has awarded approximately £3 million of funding to 80 dynamic low-carbon SMEs.
Securing more funding and industrial partnerships
Oaktec was a regional finalist in last year’s Shell Springboard, and has since demonstrated the technology in a working prototype, with support from the 2013 Niche Vehicle Awards funded PREMO project.
The company’s Senior Partner Engineer Paul Andrews said he plans to put the prize money towards securing more funding and industrial partnerships.
Oaktec was announced national winner of the Shell Springboard Awards 2014 by David Moss, General Manager Retail, North Europe at Shell and Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Oaktec faced competition from over 110 companies and was selected by an expert panel of judges from low-carbon business and academia.
The runner-up Demand Logic was also highly commended for its technology which uses big data analytics to discover energy saving opportunities in large commercial properties.
Demonstrator PREMO project funded under the Niche Vehicle Awards
Oaktec is an engineering research and development business concentrating on the development of novel engines, petrol electric hybrid technologies, low carbon automotive technologies and future car projects.
The Pulsar Range Extender Modelling for Optimisation (PREMO) project was one of 11 niche vehicle manufacturers have been successful in securing a share of the total £1.35 million of funding available at the Cenex LCV 2013 exhibition.
For the Niche Vehicle Awards supported PREMO project, Oaktec and miTechnology evaluated a novel, high efficiency, combustion engine concept that utilises standard 4-stroke engine architecture and well understood components in an engine with novel gas flow, gas dynamic and combustion architecture.
The development engine was to be be installed and tested with an EV drive train in the lightweight, aerodynamically efficient ASTAN vehicle chassis.
As reported in Autocar magazine in March, the new British-designed and engineered one-cylinder engine has the ability to “self supercharge” without any external forced induction, improving performance and reducing CO2 emissions in the process.
The engine was one of several for range-extender vehicles presented at the Niche Vehicle Symposium at Gaydon on the 18 March.
The engine was reported to be capable of being produced “in tens of millions” of units in a wide variety of applications and sectors, with its potential in the automotive sector in its current form likely to come from acting as a generator in a simple, low-cost, lightweight range-extender electric vehicle.
Its potential is helped, according to Andrews, by using only conventional components and no exotic materials or sealing processes.
The engine was reported as “self supercharging” because gases within the engine flow and react mimicking forced induction, and allows for freer breathing for the engine through a novel combustion architecture.
Bench tests reportedly showed the engine to be 20% more powerful and suitably more economical compared to the Yamada diesel engine on which the unit is based. A further 10% improvement is achievable, believes Andrews, through further optimisation.
It currently runs on propane gas, but is very “fuel tolerant”, according to Andrews, and can run on a range of fuels including petrol, diesel, bio-ethanol and bio-methane.
The technology exists on a small one-cylinder unit at present, but can be adapted to multi-cylinder applications.
Andrews says there is still “lots to do” with regards to developing the engine, and he is looking at “commercial opportunities”, with his preferred option to be to tie-up with a UK manufacturer.
Car for Young Drivers project
Oaktec is also currently the recipient of over £132,000 of funding under the Technology Strategy Board Car for Young Drivers two year project.
Starting in March last year, the project is designed to demonstrate novel, low carbon transport solutions to alleviate the issues associated with getting young driver's safely integrated into the vehicle owning and driving population - due to the high insurance costs.
A consortium made up of MI Technology Group, Juno Racing Cars, Oaktec, GOTec Vehicle Systems, Northwest Automotive Alliance, Caterham Technology & Innovation and University of Central Lancashire are working with the insurance industry to produce a safe heavy quadricycle vehicle for two people with a novel hybrid driveline technology, lightweight impact-resistant body and features designed specifically to appeal to young drivers.
The consortium obtaining funding of £964,000 from the Technology Strategy Board to supplement investment of £990,000 from the consortium members. The project aims to develop a proof of concept in year three. The intention is to establish a new vehicle brand in the UK, with associated employment and economic benefits.
Capitalising on new global low carbon markets to boost UK export growth
Coinciding with the award, Shell Springboard reported the findings of a study commissioned from the Carbon Trust that suggested the UK has an opportunity to increase its current £12 billion low-carbon exports to £30 billion by 2020, if the growth rate is increased to 10%.
According to the research, low-carbon SMEs are already more than twice as likely to export (45%) than SMEs in other sectors and 67% of SMEs have increased their revenue in the past two years.
The report entitled A MUST win: capitalising on new global low carbon markets to boost UK export grown found that emerging markets represent a major growth opportunity for SMEs, particularly the annual £15 billion export opportunity of the so-called MUST countries – that is Mexico, the UAE, South Africa and Turkey.