The founder and CEO of Lontra UK, Steve Lindsey, has been nominated for the prestigious European Patent Office (EPO) European Inventor Award 2017, the only nominee from Great Britain.
Steve Lindsey is the inventor behind the revolutionary Blade Compressor®, the first genuinely new design of the compressor in more than 80 years.
Representing a step change in air compression technology, the patent-protected, double-acting compressor delivers three principle benefits: oil-free operation, increased reliability, and significant energy efficiency improvements.
A technology more typically driven by evolution than revolution, the Blade Compressor® represents a step-change. It takes the traditional piston and cylinder, but wraps the unit inside a ring – replacing the up-and-down movement with a circular mechanism, delivered via a rotating blade (acting as the piston).
This clean-sheet design means the Blade Compressor® has an almost continuous cycle of drawing in air behind, and compressing air in front. The technology has demonstrated more than 20% reductions in energy use compared to competing products, as well as being smoother and quieter.
That energy saving is significant when you consider that upwards of 10% of industrial electricity used across Europe powers compressors. Equally, 1% of electricity used in the UK powers wastewater treatment – similar to that of other European countries and a process dominated by compressed air.
For his achievement, the European Patent Office (EPO) has named Steve Lindsey as a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2017 in the category ‘Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises’. The winners of the 12th edition of the EPO’s annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Venice on 15 June.
EPO president, Benoît Battistelli noted: “Steve Lindsey’s invention offers a clever, highly-efficient alternative to traditional air compressors, and is poised to shake up the compression industry.
“Because air compressors are used across such a large number of industries, it also has the potential to make an impact on worldwide energy consumption and cut carbon footprints across many energy-intensive sectors.”
Lindsey explained: “I think the exciting thing about compressors is they are behind nearly every part of modern life – from the compressors that open the doors on a train or a bus, to the compressors that power the tools in factories or power the spray guns in factories to compressors in air conditioning or in the back of your fridge. And our compressor can potentially replace all of them over time.”
A new take on an old problem
A natural technical problem-solver from a young age, as well as a motorsport enthusiast, Lindsey has raced professionally and worked as a test-driver for a German car company for many years. His fascination with making continuous improvements to technology made him well-placed to take on the challenge of improving such a widely used, but often overlooked technology as compressors.
To market his invention, Lindsey founded the company Lontra in 2004. In 2012, Lontra conducted its first major trial of the Blade Compressor® at a British waste water treatment facility. The blade compressor demonstrated a 20% reduction in electricity consumption – a major shakeup in an industry used to much smaller, incremental gains.
According to Lontra, with the breadth of its potential uses, the Blade Compressor could save 2 terawatt hours of electricity in Europe a year (roughly the electricity consumption of a city of 200,000 households) and 860,000 tonnes of CO2 (roughly the same annual output of 180,000 passenger vehicles).
The global market for air compressors is estimated to be some £20bn a year. To best meet customer demands across a variety of industries in which air compressors are used, Lontra is run as an intellectual property firm, licencing Blade Compressor® technology for other manufacturers, rather than operating as a manufacturer itself.
In 2014, the small company, which employs approximately 20 people, agreed a deal with Swiss multinational pump manufacturer Sulzer reportedly worth £600m to supply Blade Compressors® to wastewater treatment plants.
Lindsey also has his sights set on bringing his compressor to other industries. In 2016, Lontra won funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. This will help it to introduce the Blade Compressor® technology into the pharmaceutical and food sectors, where it will be used for pneumatic conveyors – a way of moving products and bulk materials during the manufacturing process by blowing them through tubes.