10/11/10

By Claire West

A new technology with the ability to accelerate the development of algal biofuels and transform the renewable energy market, is today announced as the winner of the AXA Insurance Cleantech Open UK ideas competition.

The micro bubble-maker, created by Professor Will Zimmerman from the University of Sheffield, advances both the commercial and environmental viability of algal biofuels.

The advancement — which takes its inspiration from how children blow bubbles - increases algae growth rates by improving the mixing of CO2 and stripping out waste. The technology is widely applicable, and hits the sustainability bulls-eye of being both cheaper and significantly more energy efficient than currently used methods. In treating water and waste water for example, the microbubble maker saves up to 80% less energy than existing technology.

Professor Zimmerman will now represent the UK in the Global Cleantech Open ideas competition, held in the San Jose on November 17, pitching in front of 2,500 cleantech investors, experts, media and academia. The Cleantech Open is the world’s biggest clean technology competition.

Professor Zimmerman said, “I’m looking forward to representing the UK on a global stage, and taking the technology to a global audience. With it we can enhance the effectiveness of not just biofuel production but anaerobic digestors, treating sewage and cooling computers — all of which have huge benefits in terms of sustainability. I’m excited that other people are now getting excited too.”

Richard Miller, competition judge and Head of Sustainability at the Technology Strategy Board, said, “What is really exciting about Professor Zimmerman’s mixing technology is the possibility that it will revolutionise not one, but many markets. It is a powerful concept and has the potential for huge impact in many applications.”

Truska Angel, head of climate change and sustainability for AXA Insurance said, “AXA Insurance is backing the competition because it is about discovering and helping forward-thinking ideas at a grassroots level and because we believe the UK can lead the way in addressing today’s energy and sustainability challenges.

“Professor Zimmerman’s technology is a deserved winner because it is a genuine break-through idea that can be practically used to radically improve so many industrial and commercial processes today, as well as being a catalyst for future innovation.”

In the global final the Professor Zimmerman will be competing against teams from countries including Brazil, China, Denmark, Israel, India, Italy, Kenya, New Zealand, Sinapore and the United States.

Winning the AXA Insurance Cleantech Open ideas competition follows just three weeks after Mr Zimmerman won a prestigious science award from the Royal Society for his microbubble-maker idea.

At the UK finals there were two special commendations from the judges:

Scour Prevention — A special commendation for Mark Aspinall for his idea that addresses a critical issue facing off-shore wind turbines, namely scouring and its associated costs.

CO2 Sequestration — A special commendation for Robin Francis for his innovation that, if successful, will enable point-source CO2 to be sequestered permanently, safely and profitably from exhaust gases of power and industrial processes.