Global materials technology firm, Lucideon has put a £1.9m Regional Growth Fund award to good use by developing technology capable of radically reducing energy use in the ceramics industry – one of the UK’s most energy-intensive sectors.
Described as a world-first in the development of pioneering low-energy firing technology – based on ‘field enhanced sintering’, the project is now significantly closer following a commercial breakthrough by the project’s engineers and scientists.
The technology’s first commercial result has been produced, 15 x 15cm tiles; all showing the same strength as tiles made using traditional, energy-intensive methods.
Business Secretary Vince Cable commented: “This exciting innovation has the potential to slash energy bills and speed up production times right across the UK ceramics industry, creating hundreds of jobs at home and opportunities with new global markets abroad.
Tony Kinsella, chief executive of Lucideon, added: “We now have material that is a tile, and looks like a tile, feels like a tile, rings like a tile and that’s a Eureka moment.
“There is still a lot of work needed but the team has risen to all of the challenges so far…[but] we are confident we have a real success on our hands, which will have a profound impact on energy use and the economy of the ceramics industry in the future.”
Lucideon’s technology reduces the temperature needed to fire from 1150oC to 850°C (and as low as 600°C) and can cut fuel bills by a quarter or more – a significant figure in an industry where energy costs can reach millions of pounds a year.
It can also cut the time needed to fire ceramics from around 45 minutes to as little as 10 minutes – a process that not only slashes energy bills but also enables production to move towards more bespoke, shorter runs.
Stephen Dixon, chief executive of Johnson Tiles, said: “We have been working with Lucideon since the start of this project and we can now see real, measurable financial benefits in adopting the technology when it’s ready.
“It is a disruptive technology that could give us a real commercial advantage, not just in cost savings. We are constantly competing against overseas industries where energy, a huge part of our costs, is not as heavily taxed. The technology that Lucideon is developing may more than level the playing field.”
Lucideon plans to have the low energy firing technology ready for commercial applications by the end of 2016 – and has secured the use of a full tile manufacturing line for 12 months to help them achieve that goal.