Combining cutting edge technology innovation with four decades of success in Formula 1, Oxford-based Williams Advanced Engineering has been working with UK start-up Aerofoil Energy since 2015 to develop the Aerofoil shelf-edge technology. This aerodynamic device significantly reduces the energy consumed by refrigerators in supermarkets and convenience stores by ensuring that more of the cold air stays in the chiller.

Supermarkets and convenience stores currently account for over 10% of the UK’s total energy use, and over 40% of that energy is consumed by the refrigerators. The open fronted chillers that line the aisles of our supermarkets lose much of their cold air at the front and it must be continuously replaced to ensure produce is kept cool. This increases energy consumption and creates ‘cold aisle syndrome’, making for an unpleasant experience for shoppers.

Aerofoil devices can be attached to each refrigerator shelf to keep more of the cool air inside the cabinet. As well as attaching to new refrigerators they can also be retro-fitted to existing ones. Aerofoils are carefully designed and engineered devices that control the direction of airflow - fundamental in the design of Formula 1 cars to channel the flow of air and create downforce. Aerofoil Energy worked closely with Williams to refine the concept, utilising Williams’ proven expertise in aerodynamic design and testing from Formula 1 racing. Williams Advanced Engineering used computational fluid dynamics to model, analyse and optimise aerofoil designs before testing them at their factory in Oxfordshire.

Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, is installing Aerofoils as part of a significant retrofit programme across its 1,400 stores this year, while all new fridges are now fitted with the technology as standard. Fitting the aerofoils could reduce the chain's refrigeration costs by up to 15%, a potential multi-million pound annual saving nationwide. Using Aerofoils represents a potential drop in energy consumption of 44 million kWh every year for the chain – the equivalent of boiling 320 million kettles - and supermarket aisle temperatures are estimated to be up to 4°C warmer for customers.

Since January 2017 130,000 Aerofoils have been sold, with almost 300,000 in production and planning. As of March 2018, Aerofoils have been fitted in over 1,000 stores and by the end of 2019 Aerofoils are expected to be fitted in nearly 3,500 stores. Williams Advanced Engineering continues to support the growth of UK start-ups like Aerofoil Energy though the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund which invests into early-stage, unquoted companies that are developing disruptive technology and pioneering innovations.

MacRobert Award Judge Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng said:

“In recent years the UK motorsport industry has focused on developing technologies that improve performance and energy efficiency without compromising the sporting spectacle. This vision is equally reflected in the application of motorsport technologies in other markets as in the Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy partnership – their innovative Aerofoils not only reduce energy consumption on supermarket refrigeration units, but also improve the customer’s shopping experience. The retrofittable and unobtrusive Aerofoil may look simple, but it has been carefully engineered for maximum impact. It could potentially save supermarkets millions of pounds in refrigeration costs and help the UK reduce its carbon footprint.”

“The partnership of one of the UK’s well-known names in the sector with a local microenterprise is also an inspiring business story. Sharing technical support as well as business acumen shows how all companies, big and small, can collaborate successfully.”

The nominated team members are:

  • Matthew Burke, Head of Technology Ventures, Williams Advanced Engineering
  • Ian Turner, Senior Aerodynamicist, Williams Advanced Engineering
  • Phil Stanton, Chief Designer, Williams Advanced Engineering
  • Christian Bedford, Head of Legal, Williams Advanced Engineering
  • Paul McAndrew, CEO, Aerofoil Energy Limited