Research at the Wolfson Centre

Posted in: , on 29. Jun. 2010 - 19:05

Research at the Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology

The Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology is part of the School of Engineering at the University of Greenwich at Medway, Kent.

The centre’s involvement in powder and particulate technology started at Woolwich in 1973 and through industry-based research and consultancy activities, it has developed it’s current breadth of services. In 2005 the centre re-located to Medway.

Research is an important aspect of the work undertaken by the centre, which employs research fellows and has students studying to MPhil and PhD level, all pushing back the boundaries of bulk solids characterisation, handling equipment design and process models. This research is aimed at addressing real problems within industry including pharmaceutical, food manufacture, minerals, biomass, recycling, household goods to name but a few. Their understanding of the behaviour of powders and particulates is continually increasing, allowing us to help solve even more of the problems found in every industry that handles and processes materials in particulate form.

To allow the staff and researchers to continue their work, the Wolfson Centre is very fortunate to receive various grants, either direct from industry to concentrate on a specific area for a specific company, or from one of the Research councils to aid in more fundamental research. All the projects undertaken are of direct relevance to problems encountered in industry and the knowledge gained from these is disseminated in the form of technical papers or as presentations at conferences. Information derived from these projects is also applied during the course of consultancy work and incorporated into the series of short courses run by the centre.

A purpose-built laboratory and pilot plant complex at Chatham Maritime houses the equipment for research projects and provides the facilities to enable researchers to design and produce their own pieces of equipment with the help of the on-site technicians.

Current Research:

Development of a toolkit to predict the intensity and scale of air-induced segregation in powder handling and for flow compaction processes: The aim of this project is to deliver a “toolkit” for prediction of the intensity and scale of segregation caused by air flow through powders during handling between blending and compaction processes. The project is part funded by GlaxoSmithKline

By the end of the project an instrument should have been designed and produced able to subject a small sample of powder to the mechanisms which occur during the flow of powder and air at differential velocity. This will be used firstly to determine characterisation coefficients from the test results from the instrument (to calibrate the model to the powder tested) then to predict the level of segregation which will occur in real industrial processes of specified geometry.

The toolkit is to be used by non-specialist engineers and product developers involved in all industries which handle powders and blends for compaction, e.g. powder metallurgy, magnetics, hard metals, ceramics and pharmaceuticals (the field of the industrial collaborator). Handling processes and equipment of interest, and the segregation problems experienced, are the same across all these sectors.

Modelling of dosator filling and discharge: This project builds upon investigation already undertaken by The Wolfson Centre on existing dosator equipment. The key deliverables of the project include a “toolkit” consisting of an improved model and a suite of powder characterisation techniques, which together will enable engineers and powder formulators to make predictions of the likely performance of any powder in a given machine. It will further allow evaluation of the likely improvement to be had from different formulations or engineering changes. Supplementary benefits include an improved understanding of what it is that makes powders easy or difficult to fill accurately using dosators, an indication of the effects of environmental conditions and a general improvement in process understanding. The Wolfson research team will gain a deep insight into this key technology in secondary manufacturing, with the potential to transmit this understanding to scientists and technologists in industry. This project is totally funded by GSK

Improved discharge equipment performance for coals with poor handling characteristics: Some coals handled at steelworks and power stations in the UK exhibit flow characteristics that adversely impact upon their efficient transport and storage. In many cases the cause is that the equipment used hasn’t been designed appropriately giving rise to unreliable flow, variable discharge rates and undesirable flow stoppages. However, the redesign and rebuilding of existing equipment is rarely economically justifiable. Consequently, this project is aimed at developing cost-effective alternatives to solve these problems, concentrating on the use of inserts and on the design and production of a discharge control device to help improve discharge regularity and repeatability for different materials.

This project is funded by BCURA, in conjunction with CORUS UK Ltd.

Enhancing pneumatic conveying modelling through improvements in instrumentation: The initial phase of this research programme is to develop a more sophisticated instrumentation system to enable the Centre to gain a further insight into the behaviour of bulk solids within the pneumatic conveying pipelines including the pilot plant located at the Wolfson Centre. The results of this will enable the enhancement of modelling techniques currently employed to better optimise pneumatic conveying systems in industry.

Development of a novel characterisation technique for the flow properties of particles of extreme shape: The feedstocks used for the renewable energy industry are difficult to handle because of their irregular particle shape and size. The erratic flow of these particles during processing results in equipment down-time and waste.

The equipment providers/designers to the bioenergy industry are facing problems of putting values to the mechanical properties of the material to characterise them. Methods of flowability measurement which work well with ordinary powder and granular particles totally break down, when applied to fibrous, irregular shaped biomass materials. This project aims to develop a new characterisation technique for the flow properties of the bioenergy feedstocks which will enhance reliable flow and eradicate poor handling and flow problems at power stations, energy from waste plants and bio-refineries.

The Effect of Particle Properties on Bulk Handling Characteristics: The aim of the project is to produce data and models relating the flow and handling of powder products to their particle properties and granulometry, which will assist powder producing companies in product and process development, and contribute to the deployable powder handling expertise of the University of Greenwich. It is envisaged that the data and models, combined with the manipulation of particle properties can then be used by such companies to tailor the design of powders. The objective is to make an attempt at answering the question “what is it about the particles which affects the way they behave as a bulk?” This project is part Government-funded and part industry-funded.

Sensing Electrostatic Behaviour of Pharmaceutical Particulates: The presence of electrostatic charge in pharmaceutical processes is often a nuisance and can cause difficulties with cohesive pharmaceutical powders balling, build-up in powder handling and sieving processes, and other problems in the manufacture of products such as poor powder flow, reduced fill and poor dose uniformity. Pharmaceutical powders are very prone to electrostatic charging by colliding and sliding contacts with walls and other particles. This internally-funded project aims to develop a probe in order to allow the detection and monitoring of the tribocharging behaviour of a number of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

Recent past projects:

Handling characteristics of biomass/coal mixes for co-firing: measurement techniques and establishing benchmarks: in conjunction with e.on UK plc this project looked at how traditional coal power plants can produce energy from renewable sources.

Direct on-line measurement of wall friction of coal as an indicator of handeability: in conjunction with Corus UK Ltd this PhD project focused on developing an on-line wall friction measuring instrument that gives quick and reliable measurement of changes in coal flowability that enable a prediction of when flow problems or flow stoppages are likely to occur.

Engineering the green state of powder products: Constructed of a group of 17 researchers studying in 6 universities, the aim of this project was to address the problems associated with net shape forming powder compacts. The part taken by the Wolfson Centre was to investigate the effect of powder/granulate flowability on blend segregation during powder handling.

Improving the adhesion of particulate ingredients to food products: This EU Framework 6 funded project focussed on the defining characteristics that contribute towards the formation of bond strength between food-coating particles and base food products.

Technical Research papers:

Technical papers relating to these projects, and a range of other subjects, are listed on the website under Publications and can be requested from the Wolfson Centre, using the reference numbers quoted.

For more information on the activities of the Wolfson Centre, please visit:


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