Hethel - a hub of innovation

Sam WilliamsThe Hethel Engineering Centre is a hub of invention, enterprise and cutting edge technology on the doorstep of the city - and its tenants could help deliver the jobs and environmental solutions of the future.Sam Williams

The Hethel Engineering Centre is a hub of invention, enterprise and cutting edge technology on the doorstep of the city - and its tenants could help deliver the jobs and environmental solutions of the future. SAM WILLIAMS pays a visit.

What is Hethel Engineering Centre?

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Hethel Engineering Centre opened in the spring 2006 as a base to support advanced manufacturing companies.

And in the four years of its existence the centre has supported more than 900 businesses, helped create more than 100 highly skilled jobs and aided the creation of about 20 businesses.

Developed with funding from regional development agency EEDA and Norfolk County Council, the centre provides offices and workshops for young companies, specialist business support and consultancy and engineering services as well as conference facilities, catering and training rooms.

And work is under way on a �2.4m extension to make space for 11 further start-up businesses and broaden training facilities at the centre, situated to the south of Norwich.

For more information visit www.hethelcentre.com or call 01953 859100.

Where there's muck there's brass

Where there's muck there's brass, so the saying goes.

And anaerobic digestion (AD) technology offers hard-pressed farmers the chance to turn slurry or plant waste into valuable electricity and help the environment.

And entrepreneurs Mark Aspinall and Tom Cree, of Add Energy, have secured orders worth �18m after developing a unique AD system designed specifically for farms.

AD systems use microorganisms to digest waste material and produce gas which can be used to generate electricity - and avoid methane emissions, believed to be a major contributor to global warming.

Unlike its main competitors, Add Energy's systems are built underground and sealed, helping overcome planning obstacles, and the process is carried out at higher temperatures - making it far faster than some rivals.

The systems are designed to produce between 100 kilowatts and one megawatt of electricity which can be used on the farms and exported to the grid, earning farmers a six-figure annual income and paying for themselves in as little as three or four years.

After winning 10 contracts in the South West, the company is now seeking to recruit a sales team to target farmers in East Anglia.

Mark Aspinall said: 'There is a huge opportunity in the East of England. We are planning to turnover in the region of �4m to �5m this year, and three times that in two years' time, and we are on target for that.

'Our sales pipeline is very large. It's a product whose time has come, and interest in it is colossal.'

Hot water system could cut gas bills in half

In more than 40 years as a gas engineer, Paul Dudley was often struck by the size of energy bills at care homes, which ran into thousands of pounds each quarter.

And after years of pondering and tinkering in his garage he has come up with a pioneering solution which could cut gas use in half - with enormous potential savings in both money and carbon dioxide emissions.

While normal boilers use a single plate heat exchanger to heat water with a flame, Mr Dudley's patented system involves a unique arrangement of multiple exchangers and a controlled flow of water into and out of them.

The system pumps hot rather than cold water into the boiler to be heated, meaning it doesn't have to work so hard to get the water to the required temperature.

Mr Dudley said: 'It used to bug me how much energy companies would charge.

'I was doing a lot of work in care homes, which were storing up to 3,000 litres of water and heating it up 24 hours a day, because that's what they needed, but only using a percentage of it.

'Their gas bills were horrendous. I just looked and looked and mulled it over in my mind.'

Developed with support from regional agency Renewables East, experiments in Mr Dudley's Hethel workshop indicate a potential 50pc saving in gas use, and the system is set for official testing by experts at BRE.

Mr Dudley, from Wilby, near Diss, in Suffolk, says the systems could be used in care homes, apartment blocks and social housing, and a number of organisations are interested in the product, which will be sold by his company, Heatstream.

He added: 'It is looking quite positive.'

Bumper year for yacht electrics firm

A Hethel company which designs and manufactures electrical systems for super yachts is in line for a bumper year after a record first quarter.

Magnus Marine has received orders worth �500,000 since January - equivalent to almost half the firm's sales in 2009, which was itself a record year.

The company, established in 2002, employs five in the design of the systems, which provide electric power in boats including multimillion pound luxury yachts belonging to billionaires and rock stars.

The modules use cutting edge technology to minimise or eliminate power disturbances on boats, caused by diesel generators, which can cause lights to flicker - one of the biggest complaints from owners.

The company also produces systems to adapt vessels' power systems to run on mains electricity while in harbour, meaning they do not need to run their generators, avoiding pollution.

While Magnus Marine currently uses local subcontractors to manufacture the modules, production is set to move to the firm's Hethel workshop this year, which could result in the recruitment of additional staff.

Director Matthew Scales said the company's success stemmed from its pioneering design work.

He said: 'We only have three competitors in the world and they just sell equipment.

'The way we are going is more electrical driven, and we get involved in the design of the systems.

'Nobody else is manufacturing such equipment. It is really leading edge.'

Other Hethel business in brief

Active Technologies

Engineering design firm Active Technologies was founded in 2005, offering services and products across a range of sectors including aerospace, automotive, marine, oil and gas and renewable energy.

And the company has seen a buoyant few months, with 10 new contracts agreed in the first weeks of the year, including work in motorsport, development of a pioneering medical injection system and an outdoor gym equipment project.

The firm, which employs about 20, could also be in line for a multimillion pound deal to supply the framework for solar panels being installed on nearly 40 supermarket roofs nationally after winning a �25,000 contract for a pilot project.

Managing director Paul Spinks aims to achieve sales of �3m this year.

Scion Sprays

With the help of an 'angel' investor, staff at Scion Sprays are developing a pioneering low-cost fuel injection system which could drastically cut the emissions from small motorcycles and lawnmowers.

The company, under managing director Gavin Farmer, is set to take the system into production at the end of this year, and has already secured its first commercial order, worth �26,000.

HEC Ventures

HEC is an umbrella body representing a cluster of companies working in the development of a low-carbon bio-fuel, called dimethyl ether, and a fuel efficient vehicle engine.

Dimethyl ether can be produced synthetically from waste and offers major environmental benefits over diesel, which it can be used in place of.

Eastern Region Wind Energy Group

The East Anglian coast is set for major growth in offshore wind energy - and the Eastern Region Wind Energy Group (ERWEG) has been set up in a bid to ensure the region benefits from the billions being invested.

ERWEG is a partnership of 24 engineering companies seeking to share their skills and expertise to establish a supply chain either to begin production of wind turbines or to attract existing turbine manufacturers to start production in the East of England, which could create thousands of new jobs.

Members have stumped up �100,000 for a feasibility study, which is expected to be completed at the end of the year.