Thermofluidics was formed in February 2006 to develop and commercialise Tom Smith’s prize winning work on applied Thermofluidics. Funded by private investments and an EEDA/DTI Grant for Research and Development, the business scaled Tom’s Ph.D. prototypes to pump useful flow rates in two priority applications;
- Solar powered water pumps, using cheap solar thermal (water heating) collectors in place of more expensive PhotoVoltaic cells.
- Simultaneous water circulation and heating in domestic heating systems.
Thermofluidics was the first start-up company to be hosted by Cambridge University Engineering Department. We were also one of the first companies to be accepted into the Carbon Trust Incubator and the SDSU – Aztec Business Alliance support program in San Diego, California.
Early in 2010, a combination of new equity investment, a new management team and an Applied Research Grant from the Carbon Trust enabled us to build a series of solar powered water pumps that would address these real-world applications through a series of outdoor trials. After two and a half years of intensive development, which involved testing over 30 plastics and operating with a full-sized solar collector simulator in the lab, we launched our first ‘concentric’ NIFTE prototype at our solar test-site in the French Pyrenees in January 2012. A video of the first ‘switch on’ can be viewed here.
In summer 2012 the concentric NIFTE underwent a number of tests and iterative improvements culminating in the following;
- A durable design capable of pumping around 1000L/h at up to 5m head.
- Multiple self-starting run cycles with effective separation and removal of air separated out by cavitations.
The single cylinder ‘concentric’ NIFTE was the first NIFTE prototype predominantly comprising components designed for mass production using extrusion, casting and injection moulding with minimal post-machining. We have recently conducted a mass production cost analysis, resulting in a projected production cost of $20 to $100 U.S. per unit (excluding solar collector, valves and hoses), depending on volumes.
A further set of trials was conducted on a NIFTE circulation pump, based on two single-cylinder concentric units in the same circuit. These were ‘proof of concept’ tests. Using two 2.5m2 flat plate panels, they showed;
- Reliable hot water circulation and heating in a solar system at temperatures up to 65ºC and charge pressures up to 2bar (gauge), including flow rates of over 0.8L/s (3000L/h) at around 4m differential (pumped) head.
- Reliable self-starting and stopping over multiple run-cycles.
- Reliable self-stopping as collector temperature approaches circulated water temperature.
- Reliable de-coupling and forced stagnation of the collectors when circulated water temperature exceeds pre-set threshold level.
- Reliable self-reset when circulated water temperature falls below pre-set threshold level.
The flow rates obtained with two single-cylinder concentric NIFTEs greatly exceed the flows required by a system of the size tested. A production model would comprise a much-smaller two-cylinder unit with comparable size, output and cost to a single-cylinder concentric model.
In August 2012, Thermofluidics began a sustained effort to increase the ‘brake’ power output of the basic concentric NIFTE, funded by a Wellcome Trust Translation Award. This has recently culminated in a brake power output of approximately 50W, pumping close to 2000L/hr at over 8m head. We are currently complementing this with new generations of prototypes aimed at delivering over 10m of head and at drawing water from shallow wells (down to 7m), possibly using water/steam as a working fluid.
Back in 2010, Thermofluidics began work on a second technology, aimed at addressing the large majority of the drinking water supply market and the market for pumping ground water for drip-irrigation in smallholder agriculture. Our Double-Acting-Hydraulic Ram (DAHR) pump, based on the historic Mongolfier Hydraulic Ram, can enable the NIFTE to draw deep ground water, possibly from greater than 100m depth and provide surface pressure for filtration and drip-irrigation. Initially funded by the Public Interest Energy Research Programme, funded of the California Energy Commission, the DAHR is currently pumping dirty water day in day out up a 15m stairwell in the Oxford University department of Engineering Science, adding a further 15m of pressure at the surface with a hydraulic efficiency exceeding 75%. Like the NIFTE, the DAHR has no precision parts and no sliding seals.
Thermofluidics is based at the Oxford University Bebgroke Science Park. We are carrying out our ongoing Research and Development activities in collaboration with academics and students in the Cryogenics Group at the University of Oxford.
Mark is Chief Executive Officer of Thermofluidics with over 25 years experience working in High Tech industries. He was Managing Director at Accenture leading their High Tech business across Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing services in UK/Ireland, where he sat on the Board. Mark grew many of the Firm’s most prestigious client relationships operating in the C-Suite and delivering major change programmes across all business functions. As Managing Director Mark also then delivered significant growth across a number of Accenture’s businesses across Europe and Latin America. Mark is delighted to be focusing his extensive experience of global business to achieve major growth at Thermofluidics. Mark has an Engineering Degree from the University of Cambridge.
Tom Smith is a co-founder, and the Chief Technical Officer of Thermofluidics. He is the inventor of numerous energy and water related technologies, including Thermofluidics’ NIFTE and Hydraulic Ram. He has a proven track record in all aspects of start-up development including equity and grant fundraising, contract negotiation, patent drafting and a range of technical skills from mathematical and numerical modelling , through 3D CAD design to prototype fabrication and testing. Tom has a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Cambridge, a first class degree in Physics from Imperial College, London and has won numerous prizes for his work including the Royal Institution Science Graduate of the Year Award, 2004, and the Sunday Times One Minute Pitch, for £100,000, in 2005.
Tom Law joined the Thermofluidics team in 2011, to lead the development of our patented Hydraulic Ram technology. He has since become a key element in all stages of the NIFTE and Large Volume pumping engine projects as well, particularly in modelling, data acquisition and data analysis roles. Before working with Thermofluidics, Tom worked on the production of thermoacoustic/aerodynamic models for aircraft engine turbine manufacturer, ITP SA in Madrid, Spain. These are currently used in the design of the Rolls Royce Trent engine family. Tom has a Ph.D. in aeroacoustics from the University of Cambridge, completed as part of a large international design project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known as the ‘Silent Aircraft Initiative‘. Prior to this, he gained a first class MEng degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hull where he was the IMechE Student of the Year for each of the 4 years.
Ben joined Thermofluidics in August 2015 as Operations Director to support the business as it expands. Ben has a background in delivering civil engineering projects in the UK and overseas with 16 years experience in construction, consultancy and humanitarian work. As well as working on traditional civil infrastructure projects including water treatment plants and the Millennium Stadium, he has worked on complex nuclear decommissioning sites through to small community based programmes and has also led research and development projects. Ben’s experience and skills have allowed him to deliver in coordination roles with multi-disciplinary teams and makes him well suited to help take Thermofluidics into a period of growth with partners conducting field trials in key sites around the globe. Ben recently completed the Masters of Integrated Water Management at the University of Queensland in Australia where he received the Dean’s Commendation for Academic Excellence.
Bart joined the Thermofluidics team as a Field Engineer in January 2013, having already sub-contracted to Thermofluidics for two years. He has several years of experience in numerous structural and mechanical engineering projects. He has his own self-built workshop and runs Thermofluidics’ U.K. field test site on his farm near Tiverton in Mid Devon where his activities include extensive building, modification and commissioning of proptotypes, as well as running tests and data gathering. Bart has a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Exeter.
Terry joined the Thermofluidics team in June 2013 to take on the electrical and software engineering associated with the internet-based telemetry and control of our large volume “valved” pumping engine. Terry has over four decades of experience in low level software engineering and control electronics gained in the Steel Industry and at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Terry has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD. from the University of Sheffield.
Cai Williams joined the Thermofluidics team as a Field Engineer in April 2015. Before joining Thermofluidics he worked for 4 years in Malawi and Tanzania. He has specialised his engineering career on designing, manufacturing and selling low cost water supplies to small holder farmers and low income households. He has worked on a variety of low cost manual drilling techniques and hand pumps, in particular on an efficient hand operated water pump known as the rope pump that is easily manufactured using standard tools and parts. Whilst in Malawi, he also worked on a 2,000 ha farm and cotton ginnery in a variety of roles including managing the irrigation, factory and the adoption of improved soil and water management methods, known as conservation farming, both on the farm and with the associated farmers clubs. Prior to this, he gained a first class Masters degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Bristol where he was awarded the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and Hele Shaw Prize for best student project for his work on the ‘solar rope pump’ which is a low cost photovoltaic (PV) powered borehole pump.
Tracy Watts joined Thermofluidics as company bookkeeper in 2010. She oversees Thermofluidics’ purchasing activities, runs the company payroll and prepares management accounts, VAT returns, profit and loss and balance sheets for the end-of-year process. Tracy has over 30 years of experience in accountancy practices in purchasing, bookkeeping, accounts and auditing roles. Tracy is a member of the International Association of Bookkeepers and has AAT and ACCA accountancy qualifications.
Lynne joined Thermofluidics in September 2016 as Experimental Technician. She has ten years’ experience as a water engineer and has worked in East Africa and Asia on a range of irrigation projects, most of which were aimed at improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods. She has a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Irrigation Engineering from the University of Southampton.