Aerofoil technology announced as finalist for UK's top engineering award

by Paul McAndrew
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Aerofoil Energy and Williams Advanced Engineering have been selected by as finalists for the 2018 MacRobert award.

The MacRobert Award, first presented in 1969, is the UK's longest-running and most prestigious national prize for engineering innovation.  
It honours the winning organisation with a gold medal, and the team members a cash prize of £50,000. The presentation of the Award recognises outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.

Past winners have included the engineers behind innovations such as the Pegasus jet engine, catalytic converters, the roof of the Millennium Dome and intelligent prosthetic limbs. In 2017 the Award was won by the team behind the Raspberry Pi microcomputer.

Originally founded by the MacRobert Trust, the Award is now presented and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers.

Combining cutting edge technology innovation with four decades of success in Formula 1, Oxford-based Williams Advanced Engineering has been working with Aerofoil Energy since 2015 to develop the Aerofoil shelf-edge technology. This aerodynamic device significantly reduces the energy consumed by refrigerators in supermarkets and convenience stores by ensuring that more of the cold air stays in the chiller.

Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, is installing Aerofoils as part of a significant retrofit programme across its 1,400 stores this year, while all new fridges are now fitted with the technology as standard. Fitting the aerofoils could reduce the chain's refrigeration costs by up to 15%, a potential multi-million pound annual saving nationwide. Using Aerofoils represents a potential drop in energy consumption of 44 million kWh every year for the chain – the equivalent of boiling 320 million kettles - and supermarket aisle temperatures are estimated to be up to 4°C warmer for customers.

Since January 2017 130,000 Aerofoils have been installed in supermarkets and convenience stores, with a further 300,000 in production and planning. As of March 2018, Aerofoils have been fitted in over 1,000 stores and by the end of 2019 Aerofoils are expected to be fitted in nearly 3,500 stores.

MacRobert Award Judge Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng said:
“In recent years the UK motorsport industry has focused on developing technologies that improve performance and energy efficiency without compromising the sporting spectacle. This vision is equally reflected in the application of motorsport technologies in other markets as in the Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy partnership – their innovative Aerofoils not only reduce energy consumption on supermarket refrigeration units, but also improve the customer’s shopping experience. The retrofittable and unobtrusive Aerofoil may look simple, but it has been carefully engineered for maximum impact. It could potentially save supermarkets millions of pounds in refrigeration costs and help the UK reduce its carbon footprint. The partnership of one of the UK’s well-known names in the sector with a local microenterprise is also an inspiring business story. Sharing technical support as well as business acumen shows how all companies, big and small, can collaborate successfully.”

Craig Wilson, Managing Director of Williams Advanced Engineering said:
“The team at Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy are delighted to have been recognised by the MacRobert Award for the innovation involved in Aerofoil and the positive impact it is making on the economy and the environment. Combining an innovative idea from Aerofoil Energy with our engineering and aerodynamic capabilities has enabled the product verification and engagement of leading supermarkets as customers, delivering benefits for them and their shoppers for the long-term.”

Aerofoil Energy worked closely with Williams Advanced Engineering to refine the original Aerofoil concept, using Williams’ proven expertise in aerodynamic design and testing from four decades of success in Formula One racing. Williams’ Advanced Engineering division uses computational fluid dynamics to model and simulate new designs before testing them at the Williams technical facility in Oxfordshire.

Paul McAndrew, CEO of Aerofoil Energy Ltd said:
“It’s an honour for us to be through to the final three for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award. This is a great partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering and it is delivering tangible benefits to our supermarket customers, the environment and consumers across the UK, with potential for worldwide application. We’re excited about where the future might take Aerofoil and hopeful for the final award decision soon.”

The nominated team members are:

    • Matthew Burke, Head of Technology Ventures, Williams Advanced Engineering
    • Ian Turner, Senior Aerodynamicist, Williams Advanced Engineering
    • Phil Stanton, Chief Designer, Williams Advanced Engineering
    • Christian Bedford, Head of Legal, Williams Advanced Engineering
    • Paul McAndrew, CEO, Aerofoil Energy Limited