Clean Air’s fume containment solutions for the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre

Clean Air, a leading UK specialist in the design, manufacture, testing, installation and maintenance of high-quality fume cupboards and fume extract systems, has developed a range of advanced specification fume cupboard solutions for The University of Manchester’s state-of-the-art Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC).

New bench-mounted, walk-in and extra-large walk-in fume cupboard designs have been created to meet the exacting requirements of this £60m world-leading international research and technology facility.

Opened in 2018, the GEIC is tasked with accelerating the commercial impact of graphene, developing industry-led applications in partnership with academics. The brightest minds are advancing the future of this revolutionary material and Clean Air’s fume cupboards are integral to this important work.

The brief

The world’s thinnest, lightest, strongest material was isolated by two researchers at The University of Manchester in 2004. Since that first isolation, The University of Manchester has been home to pioneering research into graphene and now houses the world-leading National Graphene Institute (NGI).  The GEIC is designed to capitalise on the NGI’s research, engaging with global industry to develop commercial applications for graphene.

This step-change from research to applying the almost limitless possibilities graphene presents to everyday products and services requires a different approach to innovation. Academics are partnering with businesses and global corporations, and a different set of equipment is necessary to handle greater volumes of material through proof of concept testing and into a production environment.

This equipment will be worked hard as the GEIC fulfils its remit and upscales to production capacities. The fume cupboards in which many processes will be proven are a key piece of safety and production equipment. A stringent due-diligence exercise was undertaken to ensure the fume cupboards selected fulfilled the robust value matrix criteria. Among other requirements the supplier needed to:

  • Demonstrate a strong customer focus, working in partnership with the GEIC to fully understand its requirements
  • Have the industry experience and the design capability to construct innovative and technologically appropriate solutions to the GEIC’s challenges
  • Have a track record of a high-quality, hard-wearing standard of build and finish
  • Confirm the manufacturing capacity to guarantee on-time delivery to tight schedules
The Clean Air solution

The GEIC is an advanced upscale facility where potential industrial applications of graphene and other 2D materials are commercialised in partnership with industry. Clean Air has created a suite of scaled fume cupboards that offer excellent fume containment and are tailored to each set of processes they will be used for.

Operator safety has been engineered in at every step, as has ease of access for maintenance.

Step one – High Performance Radius Profile fume cupboards

Twenty-seven High Performance Radius Profile bench-mounted fume cupboards have been supplied for the chemistry laboratories. The units have either polypropylene or stainless-steel internal liners to suit the chemical processes being conducted. They house one to two litre testing quantities.

Step two – Walk-in fume cupboards

Two walk-in fume cupboards offer extra flexibility and provide the testing environment for intermediary proof of upscale. With an internal capacity of over 2.5 m³, up to five litre enclosed reaction vessels can be comfortably accommodated. Whole experiments can be conducted inside these fume cupboards.

Step three – Extra-large walk-in fume cupboards

The ten substantial, extra-large walk-in fume cupboards in the Pilot Hall have an important role to play in the development of low-cost, scalable manufacturing methods for high-quality graphene.

Once a concept is proven the extra-large walk-in fume cupboards will be used to demonstrate the process can be undertaken in a production environment. They have a significant internal volume of 7.8 m³. Within them ten litre vessels, one metre conical flasks, differential pressure rigs and gas bottles, among other apparatus, can be used.

  • Containment

These fume cupboards provide excellent containment. To ensure this containment is maintained in such large units a bespoke opening system was devised to offer safety and ease of use.

Each of the extra-large walk-in fume cupboards has a series of four sash arrangements. The top fixed panel features four horizontal sliding sashes to allow for adjustments to the equipment located in the unit and for maintenance access.

All three of the vertical rising sashes below raise to stack neatly behind this top panel, allowing large apparatus to be quickly and easily installed or removed. The top two of these are motorised and have an auto closing system to both protect operators and save energy.

  • Energy-saving fume cupboard technology

The technologically advanced integrated alarm and auto sash control panel monitors the face velocity across the sash openings and controls the energy-saving Variable Air Volume (VAV) system. The VAV system itself reduces the volume of air pulled through the fume cupboard, leading the lab to require less conditioned air to replace that extracted. In combination with the auto sash closure this can significantly reduce energy costs.

  • HEPA filters

These fume cupboards use HEPA filter technology to remove fine particulates before the extraction system vents the fumes. The top of each unit is reinforced to carry the weight of the large, safe-change HEPA system. To make maintenance as safe and simple as possible a platform has been incorporated to support engineers when the filters need to be replaced.

  • Easy access to services

Specialised service columns are located to the accessible side of each extra-large walk-in fume cupboard, again with maintenance in mind. Each unit has its own bespoke set of gas services with regulated controls, and twelve electrical sockets. The sockets include one high-voltage 3 phase electrical supply and a pass-through port.

  • Fire safety

The fire suppression systems are also contained within the service columns. These have been optimised to suit the large internal volumes of the extra-large walk-in fume cupboards and feature both soffit mounted and low-level injectors.

The generous working space is complemented with twin lighting circuits which the operators can control to their preference.

  • Easy waste removal

Clean Air also designed and built a system for the manual handling and removal of chemical waste from the fume cupboards. An alarm alerts the operator when the Carboy waste container reaches a certain volume. A pull-down steel ramp and mobile platform feature quick-release change-over valves for a fast and safe exchange of containers.

Performance assurance

Clean Air offers type-testing and commissioning expertise to give assurance of its fume cupboards’ excellent containment.

The bespoke designs were tested to meet BS EN 14175 at Clean Air’s in-house facility using its cutting-edge type-testing rig.

Members of the GEIC team visited to observe the tests, which established that the units meet the proposed BS Band 1 criteria that give assurance for certain types of operation, for example research labs.

What our client said about this project...

“Clean Air has been supplying The University of Manchester with fume cupboards for over 18 years, and we are very pleased that yet again they have delivered the design innovation and build quality we required. Clean Air’s technology, design capability and willingness to work in partnership to ensure that the fume cupboards’ design, performance, delivery and commissioning matched our specifications and schedules has been a big help with the project. The GEIC is turning graphene’s potential to revolutionise countless industries into a reality. Clean Air’s fume cupboards provide the safe environment for our teams of scientists to undertake investigations of new concepts and applications. In the extra-large walk-in fume cupboards they can demonstrate process stabilisation and work towards achieving reproducible quality and high manufacturing yields, enabling us to advance the potential of graphene. ”

John Whittaker, Head of Operations at the National Graphene Institute

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