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Published: 01 June 2016

Secretary of State opens test facility developed through Surrey-SME project partnership

Last week, Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, officially opened an exciting new test facility which has been developed thanks to a collaborative research partnership between the University’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and Department of Physics with Sussex-based SME, Plastipack Ltd.

The unique test facility, a world first, comprises of five outdoor 8m x 4m x 1.2m swimming pools located side by side at the Plastipack Headquarters in St. Leonards-On-Sea, East Sussex.

Plastipack is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of specialist covering materials for swimming pools: providing solar performance and evaporation control, significantly improving the carbon footprint of pools by reducing the energy and chemicals required to run them.  

The relationship with Plastipack Ltd has been nurtured by academics from the University’s Department of Physics - Dr Steve Clowes, Professor Stephen Sweeney and Dr Marian Florescu, and with the support of Research and Enterprise Support appropriate funding has been sourced and successfully awarded.

In July 2012, the partnership embarked on a sKTP (short Knowledge Transfer Partnership) funded by the Technology Strategy Board, now known as Innovate UK. This 12-month project with Plastipack recruited Dr Remi Wache as the KTP Associate to develop the theory of a dual-function swimming pool cover that allows for maximum water heating from solar radiation while blocking the wavelengths that allow photosynthesis thus inhibiting algae growth.  

The partnership was awarded further funding in July 2013 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the University’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA).  Drawing upon expertise in photonics and using state of the art optical characterisation, the project demonstrated that an enhanced energy-saving product could be achieved by applying materials science to engineer the required optical properties significantly improving the thermal insulation.  

The work resulted in submission for a patent for the new EnergyGuardTM product and commercialisation of the product is reinforcing the company’s market leading position.

In July 2014, the University and Plastipack Ltd were awarded funding for a 3 year KTP from Innovate UK to develop new high-performance water cover products and enhance existing products using light-matter interactions to enable bespoke product design for new and existing markets.  

The KTP has been supplemented by a one year Professional Training Year placement student from the Department of Physics, who has worked together with the KTP collaboration to successfully design and implement a one-of-a-kind swimming pool testing system to constantly monitor, record and analyse temperature data in comparison with weather information, using this insight to improve the performance and energy efficiency of the products

Professor Stephen Sweeney, Head of the Department of Physics, applauded the success of this collaboration, saying: “This is a perfect example of how Universities can successfully engage with small businesses to generate significant economic value through leveraging curiosity-driven University research. The benefits of this project have been two-way, with increased business and market opportunities for Plastipack and excellent training and development activities for staff and students at the University. We were delighted to celebrate the successful outcomes of this partnership with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Peter Adlington, Managing Director of Plastipack Ltd, said: “Our new outdoor laboratory will be invaluable in the development, analysis, and comparison of high performance cover materials for pools.  It increases our understanding of how products perform on real pools and will help Plastipack maintain market leadership through technical expertise. It adds credibility to product claims with publishable results and greater environmental monitoring which sets us and our products apart from other manufacturers.  It also helps raise the importance and industry awareness of credible performance data.”

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