UK: The aerodynamic shelf-edge technology developed to reduce the energy consumed by refrigerated display cabinets is in the running for this year’s prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award.

The Aerofoil technology, developed by Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy to ensure that more of the cold air stays in the cabinet, is one of just three finalists for this year’s award.

The MacRobert Award, first presented in 1969, is the UK’s longest-running and most prestigious national prize for engineering innovation. It honours the winning organisation with a gold medal, and the team members a cash prize of £50,000. Past winners have included the engineers behind innovations such as the Pegasus jet engine, catalytic converters, the roof of the Millennium Dome and intelligent prosthetic limbs. In 2017 the Award was won by the team behind the Raspberry Pi microcomputer.

The MacRobert Medal, first presented in 1969, is one of engineering’s top awards

Combining cutting edge technology innovation with four decades of success in Formula 1, Oxford-based Williams Advanced Engineering has been working with UK start-up Aerofoil Energy since 2015 to develop the technology.

Supermarkets and convenience stores currently account for over 10% of the UK’s total energy use, and over 40% of that energy is consumed by the refrigerators. Cold air spillage from the open-fronted cabinets increases energy consumption and creates ‘cold aisle syndrome’.

The Aerofoil devices can be attached to each refrigerator shelf to keep more of the cool air inside the cabinet. Suitable for both new cabinets and as a retrofit the aerofoils are carefully designed and engineered devices that control the direction of airflow – fundamental in the design of Formula 1 cars – to channel the flow of air and create downforce. Aerofoil Energy worked closely with Williams to refine the concept, utilising Williams’ proven expertise in aerodynamic design and testing from Formula 1 racing. Williams Advanced Engineering used computational fluid dynamics to model, analyse and optimise aerofoil designs before testing them at their factory in Oxfordshire.

Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, is installing Aerofoils as part of a significant retrofit programme across its 1,400 stores this year, while all new fridges are now fitted with the technology as standard. It is calculated that fitting the aerofoils could reduce the chain’s refrigeration costs by up to 15%, a potential multi-million pound annual saving nationwide. Using Aerofoils represents a potential drop in energy consumption of 44 million kWh every year for the chain.

Since January 2017, 130,000 Aerofoils have been sold, with almost 300,000 in production and planning. As of March 2018, Aerofoils have been fitted in over 1,000 stores and by the end of 2019 Aerofoils are expected to be fitted in nearly 3,500 stores.

MacRobert Award Judge Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng said: “In recent years the UK motorsport industry has focused on developing technologies that improve performance and energy efficiency without compromising the sporting spectacle. This vision is equally reflected in the application of motorsport technologies in other markets as in the Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy partnership – their innovative Aerofoils not only reduce energy consumption on supermarket refrigeration units, but also improve the customer’s shopping experience.

“The retrofittable and unobtrusive Aerofoil may look simple, but it has been carefully engineered for maximum impact. It could potentially save supermarkets millions of pounds in refrigeration costs and help the UK reduce its carbon footprint,” he added.

The nominated team members are: Matthew Burke, head of technology ventures, Williams Advanced Engineering; Ian Turner, senior aerodynamicist, Williams Advanced Engineering; Phil Stanton, chief designer, Williams Advanced Engineering; Christian Bedford,head of legal, Williams Advanced Engineering; Paul McAndrew, CEO, Aerofoil Energy.