April 19, 2007 British motorsport specialist Prodrive appears set for a foray into the home power market. Prodrive works for numerous companies at the highest levels of motorsport in many categories, and the focussed engineering technology required for Formula 1 is helping to create the next generation of household heating and power. Powerdrive is working with Disenco Energy to bring its micro combined heat and power (mCHP) unit to the domestic market. Micro CHPs are not only more efficient than current domestic boilers, but they also generate electricity, which, when not being used by a household, could be sold back to the national grid. The Disenco mCHP generates 15 kW of heat and 3 kW of electricity. It is also more than 90 percent efficient converting 70-80 percent of the available energy in natural gas for central heating and between 10 and 25 per cent into electricity. This can reduce an average home’s carbon emissions by between two and six tonnes per year, while saving up to 30 per cent on the household fuel bill too.
The mCHP generates electricity by using what would normally be waste heat to drive a stirling engine. Stirling engines are not new technology, indeed this external combustion engine principle was invented in the 19th century to drive large machinery. However, the advent of the internal combustion engine, as found in cars, soon led to its demise.
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Prodrive is using its experience of working with high technology materials like ceramics, precious metals and composites to develop a compact stirling engine for mCHP. David Hemmings, Prodrive chief engineer, said: “The first stirling engines were the size of a house and used to drive machinery in factories in Victorian times. Developing a compact unit which is efficient and cost effective, while operating at temperatures exceeding 600oC, has meant using new materials, many of which are only found in the motorsport and aerospace industries.”
It is currently estimated that such mCHPs in homes and businesses could ultimately generate up to 20 GW of the UK’s energy demands, which is equivalent to the UK’s existing nuclear capacity. They are also far more efficient than centrally producing energy through power stations and more flexible too as energy is generated at the point of demand in the home, rather than through power stations, where the overall efficiency can be just 45 percent, compared to the 90 percent for a mCHP.
Simon Ambler, chief executive of Disenco, said: “You wouldn’t normally imagine that one of the world’s leading motorsport businesses could help develop technology to replace your boiler at home. However, British motorsport is at the cutting edge of so many new technologies that it is in fact the perfect environment to rapidly commercialise this exciting technology.”