We mean business

The University of Leicester is committed to adding value to business operations through close partnerships and collaboration. The success of University-business partnerships is demonstrated by the following examples drawn from some of Leicester’s research strengths.
We are very keen to listen to and work with firms to meet their requirements and identify practical business solutions. With increasing global competition, companies need to adopt innovative and sustainable business processes and products to strengthen their brand and attract new business. I do believe that tackling these challenges is best done through partnerships and that the exchange of knowledge and expertise between universities and business is one of the most powerful means of collaboration.
Professor Kevin Schürer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise

A breath of fresh air

We Mean Business 1
Setting up a weather station to operate alongside one of the CityScan prototypes (right) on the roof of the University’s Attenborough Tower, overlooking the City of Leicester.

Using scattered sunlight, academics at the University of Leicester have developed a state-of-the-art air quality monitoring system, CityScan, which can determine the concentration and position of major pollutants such as Nitrogen oxides and heavy fuel particulate matter. The goal for CityScan is to work towards improving urban environments by improving the quality of the air we breathe.

This technology is based upon expertise held within the University’s Space Research Centre and Department of Chemistry, and its key industrial project partner, Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd. CityScan technology uses complex and very sensitive scanners which provide comprehensive emissions scans of a designated area every six minutes to local councils and other authorities to help them better manage carbon emissions and human exposure in their urban environments.

Improvements in traffic congestion management and targeted usage of cleaner greener fuels can then be optimised through increased understanding of pollution, resulting in better health for the population and cleaner cities.

Thanks to critical funding received from the Regional Technology Framework through emda, the University of Leicester has built and enhanced key elationships with regional suppliers to design and test the CityScan concept. Through collaboration on electronics manufacture, with DataLink Electronics based in Loughborough, and E2V based in Lincoln, and engineering design with Magna Parva Ltd in Bardon Hill, Leicester, three technical prototypes of the instrument have been built and will be demonstrated as part of a European Space Agency-funded project with Leicester City Council.

The emda funding has enabled the University of Leicester to promote the technology to numerous potential partners and customers and has enabled us to lever additional funds from the European Space Agency and Research Councils to further demonstrate the technology to a large potential customer by monitoring the 2012 Olympics and Heathrow Airport avionics traffic.

Innovation through partnership

A number of businesses in the East Midlands are reaping the benefits of Innovation Partnerships – a programme unique to the University of Leicester – and have already seen major improvements to both their business practices and their future prospects.

For example, two Leicestershire businesses, Oadby-based Advanced Smoke Group and Leicester social enterprise Well for Living, decided to get in touch with the academic and business experts through the University’s Innovation Partnerships project. Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the project was designed to help companies achieve cost savings, as well as long-term commercial benefits and growth by collaborating on innovation based environmental efficiency projects with the University of Leicester.

Richard Brooks, General Manager of Advanced Smoke Group needed to find a way to monitor and control air leakage through tall buildings in order to reduce the volume of smoke created by fires.

“The company asked the University for assistance which arrived in the form of a full-time postgraduate electronics engineer, Danish Ahmad, who not only designed the device they needed, but also redeveloped the company’s Smoke Zone Panels to extend their battery life and to improve the panels’ overall performance and reduce product costs.”

One million fingerprints per second

The University of Leicester’s expertise for measuring the trace composition of complex mixtures of gases in real-time is being deployed through a regional technology demonstrator project, RAFT (Real-time Air Fingerprinting Technology), based in the Department of Chemistry.

Simply put, RAFT is an electronic nose that is capable of instantaneously measuring trace constituents in air or any gas sample. As a nose it measures many components simultaneously and has the ability to create ‘fingerprints’ of the composition of complicated mixtures. The technology is fast, sensitive, quantitative and occurs in real-time.

The RAFT team of experts are showcasing the technology and its potential to companies from all sectors to help them adopt innovations and develop new products. They can see that by identifying the volatile organic compounds given off by their products they can effectively avoid emission hazards. The technology can be used to fingerprint anything from people’s breath to automotive emissions and even mangos, to determine their state of ripeness.

Typically air samples are rapidly analysed by gas-phase technology to obtain fingerprints of the molecules present, (the choice of fingerprinting solution used can change the fingerprint for added functionality). After the ‘inking’ process all the molecules are weighed simultaneously. The process is fast with one million fingerprints being collected every second. The information from the fingerprints is classified by computer as it comes in – in real-time – into a readily usable form.

The technology works well and industry could benefit greatly by adopting it, helping them comply with health, safety and environmental regulations, introducing production quality control and assurance or developing products for crime detection and many other applications that depend on the measurement and identification of complex gas mixtures.

RAFT is part-financed by European Regional Development Fund with the explicit aim of working with businesses to make them more competitive.

This article originally appeared in LE1 Autumn 2011.

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