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Introducing NanoTherm: reducing energy in heating and cooling systems using carbon nanofluids

4 June 2021

The growth of energy used for commercial and industrial space cooling is accelerating and is becoming a potential impediment to meeting global climate targets. Worldwide, energy for space cooling tripled between 1990 and 2016, and could triple again by 2050 at current trends. For Ireland, with its focus on developing a data centre cluster in the Dublin region, cooling is increasingly becoming an issue with current projections showing the potential for these centres to consume 29% of national electricity generation by 2028. This is clearly unsustainable and requires novel approaches to facilitate energy-reduction solutions based on disruptive research and technology. One such solution in NanoTherm.

NanoTherm is an Irish led innovation to solve a global challenge; It will enable Irish companies to develop a leadership position in the international heating and cooling market leveraging the expertise of the world-class nanotechnology centre at AMBER. Successful exploitation will result in a reduction of over 1MT CO2 in Ireland by 2035, with several multiples of this internationally.

Recently approved under the national Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) programme, NanoTherm is a €4.57M project which has received grant aid of €2.85M. NanoTherm brings together three Irish partners, two SMEs and the SFI Research Centre AMBER and Trinity College Dublin (AMBER). The lead partner, HT Materials Science Ltd (HTMS) is a research-driven innovator in nanofluids, while Glantreo Ltd is a long-established synthesizer of both porous and non-porous nanomaterials for application in chemical purification and separation. AMBER has considerable expertise in nanomaterials, surface engineering and thermal fluid sciences, and manufacturing systems design. The complementary expertise and focus of the partners will accelerate the development of the technology from lab scale proof of concept trials (Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 3) through pilot scale production to end user deployment and testing (TRL7).

NanoTherm focuses on the development of novel, heat transfer fluids based on high stability nanocarbon dispersions that will increase the effectiveness of heating and cooling systems in commercial and industrial businesses. The high performance nanofluid solution developed within the NanoTherm program will generate thermal transfer improvements of up to 40% over current water/glycol-based systems, resulting in lower energy consumption, lower costs and reduced environmental impact. Innovative aspects include combining novel methods for producing chemically functionalised mixtures of 1D and 2D carbon nanomaterials with a custom-engineered single-step reactor system to deliver fluids with high dispersion stability, superior thermal transfer capacity and longer lifetime. Crucially, in keeping with the circular economy, resource and material retention will be maximised.

The initial target application is the data centre sector, which is a significant contributor to global energy demand largely related to their requirement for cooling. Field testing will be carried out in several Irish data centres. This will provide end-user data on the effectiveness of the solution in terms of energy consumption, environmental impact, and cost savings, which will inform broader market deployment and commercialisation. The solution will be both backwards compatible with existing industrial infrastructure and forwards compatible for new applications such as 5G and 6G base stations, next generation of data centres and domestic cooling and heating.

Speaking at the project announcement, Dr Lorraine Byrne, AMBER Executive Director said: “The award of this grant is an excellent acknowledgement of the world-leading research work being carried out by our teams of researchers and the calibre of our industry partners, Glantreo and HTMS. It provides a route to develop practical solutions to address energy demands associated with industrial heating and cooling , bringing environmental and economic benefits not only for Ireland but on a global scale. It is a central component of AMBER’s research programme in advanced materials for sustainability and the circular economy.”

Tom Grizzetti, CEO of HTMS, added “The NanoTherm DTIF award is an international endorsement of the quality of our research. We are delighted to be working in a top-class consortium to deliver a breakthrough technology in the thermal management of fluids”.

John Hogan, Glantreo CCO commented that “The award of the DTIF is an opportunity for Glantreo to build on its existing materials portfolio and capability in the energy and energy reduction sectors. Doing this with world-class partners such HTMS and AMBER makes this all the more attractive to an innovative SME such as Glantreo.”

29 DTIF projects were awarded in 2021, with government investment of €95M. Established under Project Ireland 2040 and run by the Department Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with administrative support from Enterprise Ireland, cumulatively €500 million will be spent on development and deployment of disruptive and innovative technologies on a commercial basis.

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