An innovative commercial project based on pioneering research into mineral processing at The University of Nottingham has won an international award for its impact on industry.
The project, ‘Microwave Exfoliation of Vermiculite’, won the Environmental Impact award from the UK’s leading body of research commercialisation professionals, UNICO. The awards recognise and celebrate the process of turning knowledge and expertise from research centres into real commercial products and services that benefit society and the economy.
The University’s winning entry is a new and environmentally-friendly way of processing vermiculite, a widely-used mineral, and it is generating significant market interest. It links microwave expertise, market knowledge and funding sources to develop a new low-energy technology which is set to revolutionise the processing of this valuable commodity. Entries for the awards had to show that the project submitted had achieved, or had the potential to achieve, public impact and that knowledge transfer was a crucial part of that process.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral widely used in fireproofing and horticultural markets. The industry is a significant energy consumer that derives from the ‘exfoliation’ of the raw material into the low-weight, high-volume product. Traditionally this has been carried out in highly inefficient gas or oil-fired furnaces. Whilst microwave processing has shown significant promise in reducing energy consumption, a commercial process has never been developed.
Professor Sam Kingman and his team in the National Centre for Industrial Microwave Processing worked closely with the Technology Transfer Office at the University to successfully develop a unique process technology that consumes significantly less energy whilst also providing wider environmental and health and safety benefits such as reduced dust creation and compact footprint.
Professor Kingman said: “This award makes us all very proud. A key element of our success was engagement with key stakeholders and end users, in particular the Vermiculite Association and the Promat Research & Technology Centre.”
Dr Richard Masterman, Director of Research Innovation Services at the University said: "We are very proud to receive this award which demonstrates how effectively our technology transfer office is working with our strong research base on delivering impact from their innovative work."
Professor David Secher, Chair of UNICO, said: “This project has the capacity to make a real difference. In this time of recession it is particularly important that we celebrate the achievements of successes such as this.”
IMPACT winners 2009
Business Impact Award, sponsored by BDO Stoy Hayward, winner is:
• Transitive from The University of Manchester Intellectual Property Ltd (UMIP)
Environmental Impact Award, sponsored by Praxis, winner is:
• The microwave exfoliation of vermiculite from The University of Nottingham
Public Policy and Service Impact Award, sponsored by Research Councils UK, joint winners are:
• The Learning Needs Profiler© from Sancton Wood School/Anglia Ruskin University
• IMPACT — the International Health Impact Assessment Consortium, and IMPACT+ from The University of Liverpool