University of Sheffield’s Fulton installation shines bright

The Diamond is the University of Sheffield?s largest ever investment in learning and teaching

Opened in September 2015, the £81m Diamond building is the University of Sheffield’s largest ever investment in learning and teaching. It is home to students from its Faculty of Engineering and over its six floors, provides teaching facilities, library and IT services and state-of-the-art specialist engineering laboratories, including a clean room, a virtual reality suite and a project workshop.  

The Diamond is a multi-disciplinary engineering teaching space, used by all seven departments and three interdisciplinary programme areas. Of the many disciplines taught at The Diamond – from materials science and aerospace to traditional mechanical engineering – the University’s bio-engineering degree is an innovative and technology-driven subject that uses engineering techniques to analyse and solve some of the most important questions in biology and medicine today.  

For this undertaking, the bio-engineering department required a source of low- and high-pressure steam and, having looked at numerous solutions and manufacturers from the UK and Europe, approached Fulton for advice and a solution.

Low and high pressure steam is used by the department for process control in the laboratory-scale Solaris bio fermenters. These are used to produce a variety of single-cell organisms that are used to break down cells, extract DNA and look at protein extraction and expression. High pressure steam is used for vessel sterilisation to ensure that both the vessels are bacteria-free and ready for the next broth batch.

Commenting for the University of Sheffield, The Diamond’s technical operations manager, Dr Stephen Mason said: “A method of raising steam wasn’t considered as part of the building’s original specification so we started looking at laboratory steam generators, but couldn’t find a solution to provide the mass flow rate required for the faculty. It therefore became obvious that we needed some fairly serious steam-raising equipment and started looking at alternative boiler systems.”

Having dismissed steam generators, Stephen and his team looked at fuel-fired steam boilers but, with their requirement for ancillary equipment, these ‘traditional’ systems would have taken up too much of the laboratory’s valuable space and also weren’t deemed compatible with the building’s existing infrastructure. Additionally, with steam load only being required during teaching sessions, it was essential that a system could be powered-up and operational with 30 minutes and shut down again within just a few hours. 

So, the University’s operations team started looking at numerous alternatives from manufacturers in the UK and Europe and eventually opted for a bespoke, skid-mounted EFS electric steam boiler system from Bristol-based Fulton Limited.

“With the search for a suitable source of steam for the bio-engineering laboratory having taken longer than we had hoped, our principal performance requirement had moved from output and size, to lead time.” says Stephen. “And having opened discussions with manufacturers in early December, Fulton was the only supplier able to survey, design, deliver and install a bespoke system within the three-month timescale required of the University.”

To make The Diamond an integral part of the city centre and allow visitors to watch students studying, a large proportion of the building façade is glass and the plant room (pilot plant) within it also surrounded by a glass partition. Because the Fulton EFS electric flash steam boiler was placed within the laboratory and therefore on display to students and visitors alike, the system was skid-mounted with a blowdown vessel that was housed in an identical cabinet to the boiler. The system was then delivered to site and installed within the self-contained, glass-fronted pilot plant, which also housed the Solaris fermenter. 

With the boiler system installed on the ground floor and located almost at the point-of-use for the laboratory, all safety and planning aspects were discussed with, and solved by Fulton, with excess steam from the system being vented to roof-level via convoluted risers.

Having successfully resolved the planning and health and safety aspects of the installation, Fulton was also tasked with discussing the fermenter’s requirements for process steam with Solaris, the Italian manufacturer.

“Having no first-hand knowledge of fermenters or steam raising equipment, the University was delighted when Fulton took the lead on discussing its conceptual and detailed designs with Solaris, as the two companies were able to ensure that its systems worked seamlessly together.” says Stephen.

Fulton’s four-model EFS range has been designed specifically to deliver the short period/high demand steam loads that are typical of laboratory applications. The fully-automatic and self-contained steam boiler range incorporates an integrated feed water tank and feed water pump and provides short duration steam pulses at steady pressures. The EFS is able to meet fluctuations in steam loads and meets short-term peak flow rates of a typical steriliser cycle.

EFS boilers are designed to reduce entrainment of water droplets to a minimum and, as a result, produce high quality, contaminant-free steam. They are also quiet, clean and efficient and are protected with a fail-safe control system to ensure trouble-free operation in medical environments. 

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