Belfast Telegraph

Sun is shining on project

University's solar water heating on show at the Olympics

By Clare Weir

A new solar water heating system pioneered by a Northern Ireland university is being showcased in London during the Olympics.

It will be part of an exhibition highlighting the UK's most innovative new products.

SolaCatcher has won a place in the prestigious Make it in Great Britain Challenge.

It aims to find the next big pre-market products, processes and concepts.

The product will be on display at London's Science Museum during the Games.

SolaCatcher was designed by researchers at the University of Ulster's Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST) and has the potential to improve upon the cost-effectiveness of more traditional forms of solar heating systems.

While existing systems cost around £4,000 to install and can provide around 60% of a household's hot water, it is estimated that the current SolaCatcher unit can provide around 20% of domestic hot water needs at less than 15% of the cost of conventional systems.

The patent pending vacuum design acts like a thermos flask, enabling the collection of solar energy during the day and providing insulation to keep water warm for a sustained period of time.

It is suitable for a range of applications in social housing, domestic and commercial buildings, disaster relief structures, leisure facilities like camping and caravan sites and stand-alone functions.

SolaCatcher is the brainchild of Dr Mervyn Smyth, a reader at Ulster's school of the built environment, who is working with colleague Dominic McLarnon, research fellow at the centre for sustainable technologies on a commercial prototype of the system.

Dr Smyth said that the exhibition provides an excellent showcase for the product and the university.

"This opportunity, presented by the Make it in Great Britain Challenge, encapsulates perfectly how Ulster's laboratory-based research can evolve from the drawing board to a tangible product that meets a market need," he said.

Mr McLarnon added: "Where else does one get the opportunity to display innovative technology alongside the cream of British brand names such as Mars and McLaren during one of the world's greatest showcase events - the Olympics?"

Alongside SolaCatcher, other successful entries in the Make it in Great Britain Challenge include a new technology which could offer relief to tinnitus sufferers, an eco-friendly alternative to everyday cement which could help reduce Co2 emissions by up to 90% as well as a pushchair which can be folded down to a 32-litre rucksack.