| The sweet smell of success
Whether it is a burger, kebab or a Michelin-starred five-course dinner, Europeans like their food and they like eating out. A trip around any EU city or town at lunch and dinner times shows just how busy these eateries are – as does the smell of grease and cooked food which can be less than pleasant, especially at peak times. Extraction systems are essential to the working environments of busy kitchens, but the practice of venting odours – caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – only moves the fumes and smell outside. And ducts can often become clogged with grease and dust which, if left unattended, can become a real fire hazard.
|Sophisticated odour-extraction systems may improve people’s quality of life|
A research project that brings together SMEs and research bodies in four European countries (Tecno Sistema S.A. from Spain is officially replaced by Wiring Solutions from UK) aims to neutralise VOCs and eliminate the smells they cause. NOZONE(1) seeks to build a modular device that can be fitted inside industrial extraction systems which will destroy these undesirable organic compounds. The system has a reaction chamber where UV light is used to produce ozone gas that neutralises odours. However, because ozone itself can be a pollutant, the system has to be ‘intelligent’ so that it can regulate the use of the gas within safe limits. This means developing complex chemical-sensing devices based on semiconductor technology that can switch ozone production on and off as necessary.
The project was launched in November 2002 and as of November 2004, testing of a prototype is being carried out using a rig that mimics the workings of a professional kitchen stove, with fumes and grease getting sucked into an extraction system. Research is being pursued under the European Union’s cooperative research (CRAFT(2)) programme. Project partners are SMEs from Finland, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. VTT, the Technical Research Centre of Finland and Pera Innovation Ltd from the UK, are providing research support, and the project is being coordinated by Sintrol Oy, a hi-tech Finnish SME. VentMaster (the subsidiary of Enodis plc), which is the manufacturer of industrial kitchen-hood systems in the UK, has contributed closely to the development work and will participate in the final tests. If all goes well, testing could take place in a kitchen at the end of 2004, and a viable product could be ready for use by summer 2005.
The project partners have set themselves a number of targets which must be met if their system is to work commercially. It must produce ozone in line with national and European recommended safety levels and be capable of stopping 90% of odours from escaping into the outside air. NOZONE is also aiming for a 98% reduction in the build-up of grease and oil in an extraction system, and a 99.5% abatement of particulate matter. The end product has to be self-cleaning and modular, so it can be fitted into differently designed ducts. It will have to stand up to operating temperatures of 100°C and run fairly quietly (the project aims for a noise output of less than 30 decibels at a distance of one metre from the exhaust).
Manufacture of each unit should cost no more than €5 000 – any higher and the price would become prohibitive for most food outlets.
Social and environmental benefits
As our towns and cities grow, so will the number of food outlets. A more sophisticated odour-extraction system, such as the one being developed by NOZONE, can only have a positive impact on people’s quality of life. Less nasty smells and fewer VOCs and particulates entering the atmosphere will make for a cleaner, healthier environment in which to live. And if the technology can reduce fire risks, then there will also be safety dividends for Europe’s citizens.
The NOZONE partners can claim that they are creating a new and innovative product by bringing together cutting-edge technology from a variety of sources – for example, the use of advanced electronic control systems and chemical sensors based on semiconductors. Such innovation will need trained people to manufacture, install and service the product, which should provide an opportunity to train and ‘up-skill’ both the employees of the SMEs involved in the project and staff such as fitters and maintenance engineers. There is a potential employment boost too, as the NOZONE team forecast that a successful product selling well in the market place could generate about 1 300 jobs.
If the new extraction system catches on, the team also expect to train new licensees to manufacture their system – in the long term, this will bring technology transfer dividends to Europe’s hi-tech sector.
(1) NOZONE: An intelligent responsive pollution and odour abatement technology for cooking emission extraction systems.
(2) CRAFT supports SMEs that have a capacity to innovate but do not have their own research facilities. Under the programme, SMEs from a number of countries can come together to focus on a science or technology topic. CRAFT aims to encourage co-operation between SMEs and Europe’s research community.