Case study on the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Lanemark Combustion Engineering and Aston University, funded by Innovate UK.

About Lanemark Combustion Engineering

Lanemark has been supplying industrial gas burners to the oil and gas and manufacturing sectors for over 40 years. The company is based in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Thousands of their products are in use around the world, from petrochemical and car plants to breweries and food manufacturers.

The challenge that the KTP is addressing

Looking to the future, Lanemark want to enable their customers to reduce their carbon footprint and meet new environmental standards, by transitioning their burners to use low carbon fuels such as hydrogen or biogas. However, Lanemark has developed their burner designs over several decades using different software applications. To calculate the impact of using new fuels either alone or in different mixes with propane or natural gas, Lanemark’s engineers currently have to transfer data between different software applications – a process that is time consuming and inflexible. Lanemark need specialised support both to calculate the impact of using different fuels – on factors such as exhaust gases, flame length and heat transfer – and to integrate these into existing designs within a single software package, that will ensure they remain agile and competitive in a changing market.

Why a KTP was the ideal route

To address the challenge requires a multidisciplinary collaboration – including mechanical and software engineering – with specialist knowledge of low carbon fuels. Aston University has this mix of expertise, through the University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) and its Department of Computer Science. EBRI’s expertise in low-carbon fuels and bioproducts makes it uniquely positioned to provide the research and knowledge required to create cutting-edge, environmentally friendly industrial burners tailored to low-carbon fuels. The institute's extensive experience in bioenergy, biodiesel, and hydrogen will be invaluable in ensuring that the software aligns with the latest industry standards and advancements.  

Lead academic and EBRI researcher, Dr Muhammad Imran, works on thermal energy systems and hybrid energy. His research focuses on developing innovative thermal energy systems and improving the energy performance of existing energy systems. He jointly supervises the KTP with Dr Martin Rudorfer, from the Department of Applied AI & Robotics. Dr Rudorfer brings his software engineering expertise to the project, as well as expertise regarding intelligent automation of processes. A key feature of the software is that it will support the engineers in making better design decisions, by explicitly incorporating the expert knowledge from the company.

The structure of the KTP means that Aston University will provide Lanemark with access to specialist research expertise in areas critical to low-carbon industrial heating systems, including heat transfer, heating systems, and burner design, and Lanemark will also gain the necessary skills and knowledge to maintain and adapt the software in the future as required. Furthermore, Aston University's customer-centred software design expertise will ensure that the software is not only technically advanced but also tailored to meet the specific needs and expectations of Lanemark's clientele.

What the research involves

The research team, including KTP Associate Dr Tarun Kumar, has been working to understand the requirements of the new software and how it will be used by different people within the company. This has enabled them to build the user interface for the software, which will allow design engineers, sales agents and customers to access the complex engineering that underpins the burner designs. The software is being built within a commonly used computational platform called MATLAB.

Alongside this work, the team have also been working with Lanemark to capture the engineering knowledge within the existing software and within the company itself. They are now translating this knowledge into mathematical models that will be incorporated into the new software. At the same time, Dr Imran is using his research expertise to optimise the designs for the use of low carbon fuels, while matching – or improving - outputs for the burners.

At the end of the project, the Aston University researchers will provide the company with detailed manuals to ensure they can use and adapt the software and algorithms as required.

The potential benefits of the research

Overall, the project will enable more companies who currently use gas or propane burners to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Lanemark will gain a streamlined design process that can more easily adapt to the changing needs of their customers, in terms of the amount of low carbon fuel they wish to use in their heat systems. The new software, which will be accessible anywhere online, will ensure a consistent offer from all their sales agents. It will also easily allow customers to view the designs and see the efficiencies and cost savings that they can offer. Behind the scenes, the mathematical models will ensure that the outputs shown for each design are robust and consistent, while allowing the company flexibility to adapt the designs in the future.

The project will also be used as an example for teaching of mechanical engineering undergraduates, to help them see the benefits of collaboration with other disciplines, such as computer science, and to see the real-world applications of mathematical modelling.

What the partners say

Aidan Lewis, Technical Manager, Lanemark Combustion Engineering:

“Lanemark is a relatively small company in our industry, so it's important that we aren’t left behind by some of the bigger players. Having this new software will make us more agile in responding to new regulatory requirements and customer demands, which will keep us in a competitive position.”

Dr Muhammad Imran, Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute, Aston University:

“With fundamental research, impact can take a long time, but with a KTP, the outcomes are far more immediate. Not only will this collaborative research help Lanemark commercially, it will also significantly improve the carbon reduction potential for their products. To contribute to that is very satisfying, particularly as we will start to see the impact in just a few years.”

Dr Martin Rudorfer, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, Aston University:

“As researchers, sometimes it can feel we’re inside a research bubble and not really seeing our ideas and concepts being put into practice. My role as a computer scientist is to create the mechanism by which the engineering expertise from the University can be transferred to the company. It’s great to see how a KTP like this can really make an impact with local businesses.”