Energy-efficient factories with 'water-powered' machines

(Nanowerk News) The basic idea behind HYDRACT is to replace compressed air with water pressure as the power source for operating process valves. The water hydraulic technology can potentially be used for many other applications as a replacement for compressed air.
This EU-funded project, has demonstrated the efficiency gained when production in brewery, dairy and pharmaceutical industries switched from the more common pneumatic - or compressed air - actuators. All three are industries that use these motors to operate valves to open and close pipes where liquids flow. The researchers found that water-based actuators not only offer savings in energy and carbon emissions – up to 65% – but they are also cleaner, as they are less likely to leak.
Between 30-50% of air in pneumatic actuators is leaked in a year, which means that not only is average efficiency lost, but parts that fail in the system, like valves, are also lost. “So, it is not just about energy saving, but it is also about being much more reliable, and therefore better and faster,” adds HYDRACTDEM’s project coordinator, Mark Fairhurst.
Hydraulic actuators can be cheaper to operate and easier to install, taking just a few minutes to fit onto the place where pneumatic motors once were.
The project is specifically aimed at industries with strict hygienic requirements, which have traditionally used compressed air pneumatic actuators. The HYDRACTDEM researchers tested the hydraulic alternatives with different types of valves to cope with different forces and modes of operation.
An earlier, linked research project, HYDRACT, developed the actuators that the HYDRACTDEM team used.
“This research is a major technological breakthrough and could help industries in Europe save funds and energy,” explains Fairhurst, who is the technical director at VirtualPiE Limited, a British company specialising in engineering design.
“This is smart innovation, a game-changing product, which is good for the environment, helps business, and creates jobs,” he says.
Moreover, the team tried different factory scenarios while checking reliability over a sustained period of time. Some of the trials at the Carlsberg brewery in Denmark were run by Danish company KM Rustfri, which developed the actuator as part of the HYDRACT research, and played a leading role in the HYDRACTDEM project: using high-tech measurements, the researchers were able to calculate the energy savings from the hydraulic actuators.
Source: National Physical Laboratory
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