Bültmann Winner of the German Environmental Award 2009

The German Environmental Award conferred by The Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt goes amongst others in 2009 to the entrepeneur Petra Bültmann-Steffin. With great entrepreneurial courage and a high level of innovative energy they have succeeded in developing a special induction heater based on what are known as high-temperature superconductors according to DBU Secretrary General Dr. Fritz Brickwedde

Vorreiter bei der Industrialisierung der HTS-Technologie: Petra Bültmann-Steffin und Dr. Carsten Bührer. © DBU - Marcel Näpel

Neuenrade/Rheinbach. „With great entrepreneurial courage and concerted innovative energy, the companies Bültmann and Zenergy Power ave developed a technology that enhances energy efficiency, eases the burden on the environment and even brings economic benefits. With the world’s first deployment of high-temperature superconductors in an industrial production plant, the two firms have written a new chapter in the history of technology. This outstanding example underscores the innovative power of Germany’s medium-sized businesses and the competence of trained German experts.“ – With these words, Dr. Fritz Brickwedde, Secretary General of the Deutschen Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU), recognised the work of Petra Bültmann-Steffin (39), managing director of the Bültmann company (Neuenrade), and Dr. Carsten Bührer (39), Chief Technical Officer of Zenergy Power (Rheinbach), winners of the DBU's German Environmental Award 2009. The award will be presented by German Federal President Horst Köhler at a ceremony in Augsburg on 25 October 2009, where the duo will receive prize money of about 160,000 euros.

"Key technology of the 21st century"

Brickwedde explained how in the metalworking industry enormous amounts of energy are needed to heat metal blocks to the required temperature for processing in extrusion presses. This processing step accounts for some three percent of world electricity consumption, and in 2007 used up a total of some 15 billion kilowatt hours in Germany alone. Brickwedde: “That is equivalent to the energy generated by four coal-fired power plants.”  With this special induction heater developed by Bültmann and Zenergy Power on the basis of what are known as high-temperature superconductors (HTS) – a “key 21st-century technology” – around half of the energy used to electrically heat metals can be saved. German businesses, engineers and scientists are spearheading international advances in the development and application of this promising technology.  „he winners of the German Environmental Award can therefore be ranked on the same level with German physicist Bednorz, who together with his Swiss colleague Müller won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 for discovering the HTS", according to the DBU Secretary General.

Heater stood the test in practice - carbon monoxide emission reduced

DBU LogoThe new type of HTS-based induction heater was used in an industrial application for the first time in the world by the medium-sized company weseralu in Minden, for example for moulding aluminium window frames. It takes only 75 seconds to heat up an aluminium block using the new technology, as compared to two-and-a-half minutes previously. The shortened heating process, in combination with homogeneous heating, improves productivity by 25 percent. Moreover, the new machine uses only half as much electricity as a conventional one. With an annual production volume of 11,000 tons, a single device can therefore save as many as one million kilowatt hours of electricity. Around 600 fewer tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are then emitted, corresponding to the performance of 10,000 square metres of photovoltaic cells. Despite the current economic crisis, there is great interest in the new heater. Two additional machines have been sold in the meantime, most recently to an Italian subsidiary of the world’s biggest producer of aluminium profiles, the Sapa group.

Originally a pure supplier relationship, today an intensive cooperation

The two innovative companies from Neuenrade in northwest Sauerland and Rheinbach in the Rhein-Sieg-Kreis region have been working together closely since 2001. “This is owing above all to the untiring dedication of the two managing directors Petra Bültmann-Steffin and Dr. Carsten Bührer”, remarked Brickwedde in acknowledging the work of the graduate in business administration and the doctor of physics. Out of what was originally a pure supplier relationship between a classic mechanical engineering and plant-building firm and a high-tech company, an intensive technical and commercial cooperation has grown. “They have been able to very effectively bundle their respective areas of expertise”, according to Brickwedde. For their efforts, the two companies received the 100,000-euro Hermes Award in 2008, one of the most coveted international technology honours.

Manifold application possibilities for innovative technology

There are opportunities to apply the high-temperature superconductor technology in almost every industry. Due to its many times higher capacity to conduct electricity, the technology represents a promising solution particularly for densely populated regions with spiralling power requirements. “As the superconductor wires take up little space, they can often be integrated into the existing infrastructure. This significantly reduces the costs and energy expended on refitting measures”, explained Brickwedde. “The two medium-sized businesses recognised the potential of the high-temperature superconductor technology at an early stage and harnessed it for advances in induction heaters. This raises them to the status of world leaders in the industrialisation of HTS technology.” The DBU was convinced from the start of the exemplary qualities and market prospects of the new device, which is also known as a magnetic heater. The foundation promoted the development of the technology by Bültmann and Zenergy Power from 2005 to 2008 with cash injections totalling just under 600,000 euros.

On the keywords superconductor and HTS: Superconductors are materials that lose their electrical resistance at very low temperatures and therefore can conduct electricity with nearly no losses. The only problem is that up to now the considerable cooling requirements veritably ate up the advantages and savings – which is why superconductor technology was only used in research and in the medical field. It was not until ceramic superconductors (“high-temperature superconductors”) were discovered that new opportunities presented themselves, because they lose their electrical resistance at comparatively high temperatures, meaning there is less effort needed for cooling. The advantage is that HTS wires can conduct up to one hundred times more electricity than a comparable classic copper wire – and do it with nearly no losses. The temperature required for them to conduct electricity almost loss-free can be achieved using conventional and inexpensive cooling processes.

Source: Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU)em>

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