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High performance low carbon air compressors

Entrepreneurs Fast Track
Business case
Compressed air is used throughout industry with at least 80% of industrial applications using it in one or more of their processes1. It has a wide range of applications, from use as a power source through to wastewater treatment and pneumatic conveying. Within UK industry, compressed air2 systems are large consumers of electricity. Typically 10% of industrial electricity consumption is used to compress air. This requires 10TWh of electricity and results in CO2 emissions of around 4.3 million tonnes (MtCO2) each year3. So any increase in the energy efficiency of air compressors could result in large savings in CO2 emissions and lower air compressor running costs.


One company that has come up with an innovative solution is Lontra. It has developed a novel air compression machine called the Blade Compressor which delivers 20% efficiency gains over competing technologies4. Based on predicted performance and expected sales volumes, the compressor could deliver savings of 141,900tCO2 a year by 2025. However, back in 2004, Lontra was just starting out as a company. To gain help with starting the process of making their idea a commercial reality, they turned to our business incubator programme (now part of our Entrepreneurs Fast Track service). In 2007 we also provided the , company with a research and development grant to produce a proof of viability demonstration of its technology. As a result of this help, the company has raised a total of 1.4 million in equity funding and has secured development revenues from a number of commercial partners.

Efficiency gains of the Blade CompressorTM over competing technologies

I have no doubt that the commercialisation support and research funding got the ball rolling. We were a pretty green team in 2004. Now we are credible, serious and investable.
Simon Hombersley Business Development Director, Lontra

Most traditional compressors lose efficiency in three key areas: getting air in; leakage during compression; and expelling the air. They generate a lot of heat and so typically need external cooling. Without the addition of costly variable speed drives (VSDs), there is also little ability to vary flow and pressure in response to changes in demand.

Blade CompressorTM prototype

1,2,3 Carbon Trust Technology

Information Leaflet ECA760


Compressed air equipment available here


CTS200 Innovations case study

Help in starting out

In 2004, what we had was very much a paper idea. We had a patent and had done some high level proving work, explains Steve Lindsey, Technical Director at Lontra. Lontra approached us and was accepted onto our business incubator programme. Working with our partner, Imperial Innovations, Lontra was assisted with business planning, revenue modelling, and the creation of a business development strategy. Other work included specific market research, which we part funded, further helping Lontra understand the market requirements for its product. We also helped to bring together an experienced board led by CEO of AEA Technology, Peter Watson, and prepare the company for fundraising. The business development, experience and leadership provided by the board made us much more of a solid company and investable, explains Simon. Proof of the success of this activity came in September 2006, when Lontra secured 400,000 to develop and test a prototype for initial compressor products. The funding came from NPI Ventures, a subsidiary of Japans Nikko Cordial Corporation, one of the worlds largest securities companies, and AIM-quoted Imperial Innovations Group plc, one of the UKs leading commercialisation companies. In fact, Lontra was the first ever investment by Imperial Innovations in a company that did not originate in Imperial College. At the same time, Lontra was able to secure a small Proof of Concept grant from the London Development Agency. However, while having shown in principle that the idea worked, the company still needed to take it further. Lontra

The future

Boosting engine power

Over the next couple of years the automotive industry has to meet strict emissions regulations and reduce fuel consumption whilst providing the performance that customers want. In consequence, manufacturers are moving towards downsized engine packages with supercharger and turbo systems that force air into the engine. This approach presents challenges for heavily downsized engines, where maintaining driveability becomes an issue. What is needed is a compression device which enables a torque curve that mimics a big engine. In effect, this is what the Lontra device can offer, as it can uniquely vary the flow and pressure range at a constant shaft speed. As such it allows manufacturers to downsize engines and so run with a much smaller engine, improving fuel efficiency. In May 2010, Lontra was able to reveal that along with Ricardo and Ford Motor Company, it has been awarded grant funding by the UK Technology Strategy Board to demonstrate Lontras Blade Supercharger. The team will integrate the unique technology with a downsized engine to create a Ford vehicle demonstrator.

Through the life of the programme the Carbon Trust has shown lots of support at a variety of levels: money, guidance and networking.
Simon Hombersley Business Development Director, Lontra

Lontra has initially focused on three key applications where it believes it can make an important difference in saving energy.

Purifying sewage
The water industry is one of the heaviest users of electricity. Aeration consumes 55% of the energy cost of wastewater treatment, and is a significant cost for the wastewater companies. Therefore any product that can reduce power costs and improve operational efficiency is key. It would also make a significant contribution to meeting the carbon reduction challenges the industry faces. Lontras Blade Compressor also has additional advantages for the water industry in reduced noise, variable flow to match demand without efficiency loss or additional costs, and the ability to achieve higher pressures than traditional blowers without a reduction in efficiency. The company has completed an initial research project with Severn Trent Water, assessing the feasibility of the technology for aeration, the potential energy reduction and potential cost savings. The companies have now formed a development partnership, and are planning a major project for development of a water industry Blade Compressor with testing at a Severn Trent Water site.

Funding for research and development

In 2007 Lontra approached us again, this time , for research and development grant funding. As a result, it was awarded 170,250 to build, test and refine its prototype to the point where it would be viable to secure a partner for commercial development. The Carbon Trust grant allowed us to do our most important piece of work to date, says Simon. For a small business it is very hard to get from a concept to an investable product there is a huge gap to fill. From designs and models we were able to build a prototype, as a physical proof that the idea works, and get the data so that we could talk to industry; technology like this is quite hard to sell to people before it has reached a level where it has proved itself. This stage was essential, it gave us credibility.

Helping industry
The third target market is the industrial air sector. Most manufacturing plants use compressed air to drive power tools and other industrial processes. Air is typically generated by 7-10bar industrial compressors, and these are a major market. Lontra is currently in discussions with several manufacturers and users to bring together a joint industry project.

The technology

The Carbon Trust support is not just about money. Its about skills, its about connections, its about credibility. Working with the Carbon Trust and in some ways being connected to the Carbon Trust is a very valuable commodity as a small company.
Simon Hombersley Business Development Director, Lontra

With a traditional piston and cylinder, as the piston drops down in the cylinder it draws in air above it, and as it goes up again it compresses air in front of it. The Lontra Blade Compressor is best imagined as a piston and a cylinder but the piston has been wrapped around inside. There is a constantly open intake port at the bottom. As the piston rotates inside the ring, it induces a volume of air behind it in the same way as the piston dropping down in the cylinder. As it gets back to the starting point, it has induced a complete volume behind it. Unlike the traditional piston and cylinder that has to stop and change in direction, the blade passes through the disc; the volume that was trapped behind the piston is now therefore in front. This means that it has an almost continuous cycle of inducing behind and compressing in front and is also quiet, low vibration and high efficiency.

It also includes a simple dynamic variable displacement device, allowing the compressor to match demand, as you would when cruising down the motorway rather than accelerating, or with changing aeration requirements in a sewage works. In these conditions the loss of efficiency is very small, and it maintains a high efficiency throughout the range of usage. Our current projections are putting it somewhere between 15 25% better than the majority of air compressors in use. It is also smaller, explains Clive Hudson, Chief Development Engineer, Lontra. Find out more about the technology behind the blade compressor here

Entrepreneurs Fast Track

To get the very best ideas to the market, low carbon technology entrepreneurs need focused, integrated support. Combining the best of our successful applied research and business incubation programmes with new services, our Entrepreneurs Fast Track is a single streamlined offering to support the most promising early-stage clean technology companies. The service provides a customised package of expert advice, research and development grant funding and networking opportunities to the UKs leading low carbon technology start-ups. Learn more about the Entrepreneurs Fast Track


September 2010 Legal information