Ulster's SolaCatcher Hopes to Shine in Major UK Competition

A low-cost, solar water heating system, pioneered by researchers at the University of Ulster, is being showcased in London during the Olympics as part of an exhibition highlighting the UK’s most innovative new products.

SolaCatcher, a passive solar water heater designed for pre-heating domestic hot water, has won a place in the prestigious Make it in Great Britain Challenge.

The Challenge is part of the Make it in Great Britain (MiiGB) campaign and aims to find the UK’s next big pre-market products, processes and concepts.

Successful entries will be showcased in London’s Science Museum during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, highlighting the successes of the manufacturing sector, encouraging young people to consider a career in the industry and urging businesses to invest.

SolaCatcher’s technology is innovative in its operation and installation and has been designed by researchers at the University of Ulster’s Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST).

The technology has the potential to improve upon the cost-effectiveness of more traditional forms of solar heating systems.

On average, existing systems cost around £4,000 to install and can provide around 60 per cent of a household’s hot water.

It’s estimated that the current SolaCatcher unit can provide around 20 per cent of domestic hot water needs at less than 15 per cent of the cost of conventional systems. With proposed product improvements even greater efficiencies are anticipated.

The patent pending vacuum design acts much like a thermos flask, enabling the collection of solar energy during the day and providing insulation to keep the water warm for a sustained period of time.

By virtue of the easy mounting arrangement and simple pipework connection, the system requires minimal installation effort, reduces disruption to existing domestic hot water supplies and is passive in operation.

It is suitable for a range of applications in social housing, domestic and commercial buildings, disaster relief structures, leisure facilities (eg camping and caravan sites) and stand-alone functions.

SolaCatcher is the brainchild of Dr Mervyn Smyth, a Reader at Ulster’s School of the Built Environment. Dr Smyth and colleague Dominic McLarnon, Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, are working on a commercial prototype of the system.

Dr Smyth said: “This opportunity, presented by the Make it in Great Britain Challenge, encapsulates perfectly how Ulster’s laboratory-based research can evolve from the drawing board to a tangible product that meets a market need.”

Added Mr McLarnon: “MiiGB provides a tremendous opportunity for SolaCatcher and Ulster. Where else does one get the opportunity to display innovative technology alongside the cream of British brand names such as Mars and McLaren during one of the world’s greatest showcase events – the Olympics?”

Dr Smyth and his team are working in partnership with Ulster’s Office of Innovation and are currently exploring options for the commercialisation of the technology.

Tim Brundle, Director of Innovation at Ulster said: “SolaCatcher is a great example of innovation which could change the way we live for the better.

“It has the potential to both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and save money. The Make it in Britain Challenge has provided us with a fantastic platform to showcase this energy breakthrough.”

SolaCatcher was one of four Ulster projects which completed the Design Council ‘Innovate for Universities’ programme earlier this year. Ulster was one of nine UK universities which were chosen for this programme.

Alongside SolaCatcher, other successful entries in the Make it in Great Britain Challenge include a new technology which could offer relief to tinnitus sufferers, an eco-friendly alternative to everyday cement which could reduce Co2 emissions by up to 90 per cent and a pushchair which can be folded down to a 32-litre rucksack.

Each Make it in Great Britain Challenge finalist will be on display for one week of the six-week exhibition and visitors will be invited to vote on their favourite.

Winners from each weekly vote will feature in the final week.

To find out more about SolaCatcher visit www.solacatcher.com and for further information about the Challenge visit http://makeitingreatbritain.bis.gov.uk/

Notes to Editors:

Make it in Great Britain Challenge categories are:

Make it . . . Stronger

Make it . . . Smarter;

Make it . . . Sustainable;

Make it . . . Life changing;

Make it . . . Breakthrough (for 16-21 year old entrants only)

Make it in Great Britain is a campaign that aims to challenge outdated perceptions and transform the image of modern manufacturing.

Business Secretary Vince Cable and Business Minister Mark Prisk launched the Make it in Great Britain campaign at a stakeholder event in Central London attended by 150 of Britain’s manufacturers and trade associations in November 2011.

The Make it in Great Britain exhibition is taking place at the Science Museum in London from today (July 24) until September 9.

Caption: Dominic McLarnon (left) and Dr Mervyn Smyth with the SolaCatcher prototype and demonstrator model