Astep Project

Interview with Prof. David Reay

Prof. Reay is part of the Management Support Team (MST) of ASTEP project, and is currently the Scientific and Innovation manager of the Consortium, as well as leading WP7, the site demonstrations.

Academic & other positions: Emeritus Professor – Newcastle University; Honorary Professor – Nottingham University; Visiting Professor – Northumbria University, Newcastle; Principal Consultant – David Reay & Associates; MSc Course Tutor, Brunel University London.

Other Activities & Awards: Editor-in-Chief – Applied Thermal Engineering (33 years) – Now Founding editor. Editor-in-Chief Thermal Science and Engineering Progress – 2015 onwards. First Honorary Life member of the Heat Pump Association; Member of the UK National Heat Transfer Committee; Past President of the Heat Transfer Society; Recipient of the IChemE Brennan Medal, 2008. Co-ordinator of the Heat Exchanger Action Group –; Co-ordinator of the Process Intensification Network –;

Prof. Reay has a vast and awarded research trajectory within the fields of heat transfer, compact and intensified heat exchangers, heat pipes & thermosyphons, heat pumps, process integration and intensification, industrial energy efficiency, renewable energy and thermal storage.

What have you learnt along the way? Could you please provide any tips for the young scientists involved in their first steps of their research careers?

“My research career has spanned almost 55 years to date, interspersed with scientific journal editing, book writing, lecturing and hopefully giving to others what my several mentors gave to me. Half of the period was spent in an industrial research laboratory, where I initiated projects in heat pipes and heat pumps (with Peter Kew who is in DRA), after working on nuclear reactor fluid-dynamics, (I trained as an aeronautical engineer).
So, at an early stage in my career, I learnt that a first-degree discipline does not limit one’s horizons. It provides the scientific basis for progress in a number of fields – I have worked in aero, mechanical, nuclear, and chemical engineering, the built environment and ‘the role of the resting eccrine sweat gland’, (thermal biology). Secondly, I was fortunate in having a degree of freedom to work in areas that I really found interesting. Thirdly, if you are in academia, take as many opportunities as possible to attend and/or present at conferences and workshops – meeting people has been the highlight of my career. (I found in my first 25 years in research that much of the work was confidential to our clients, so papers etc. were infrequent). The many EU Framework projects in which I worked did give opportunities for meeting other contractors in similar fields of research, and later as an adviser – such meetings are sadly lacking, in my experience, from the HORIZON programme.
Nowadays, for scientists in industry, following interests and opportunities probably involves frequent changes of employer – so if you find progression inhibited in your own company – look for a more stimulating opportunity elsewhere.
Finally, hone your mathematical and computing skills in this fast-changing environment. Both left me behind decades ago!”


After such an outstanding professional trajectory, what do you consider to be your most important contribution up to date?

“Being a Founding Editor of scientific journals since 1981 for Pergamon Press and then Elsevier has helped me to direct ‘good technology’ to those who could benefit from reading learned papers. If this sounds pompous (it does to me!), a second contribution was teaching ‘Technology Futures and Business Studies’ and ‘Process Intensification’ to students at Heriot-Watt University, where one was Ahmad Mustaffar, also in DRA and ASTEP. (I do like your phrase ‘outstanding professional trajectory’! Most flattering.)”

What would you think will be a key contribution in this broad field for the future?

“I would like to believe that my work on heat pipes, including currently helping Peter Kew, lead author, to compile the 7th Edition of Heat Pipes, the standard work on the topic, will have a lasting impact on interest in the technology”


Why did you choose to participate in this project? Why does this research need to be done?

“The involvement of DRA came about as a result of approaches from EBOS Technologies (EBOS) and Analisis-DSC (ADSC). In particular we had a most interesting collaboration with ADSC in a previous HORIZON 2020 project (led by IRIS) on process intensification (PI) in industry. While ASTEP is rather removed from PI in the context with which I am familiar, it was an opportunity to bring together a small team with expertise in heat transfer, heat storage and solar energy integration that could hopefully make a significant contribution – the fifth Associate, Prof. Chris Underwood, has been active in another HORIZON solar project.
The research needs to be done for a number of reasons – perhaps from an engineering viewpoint the integration of a rather complex set of unit operations into industrial processes and sites is foremost. Introducing such technologies (solar concentrators, thermal storage via PCMs and in one case a solar thermal-driven absorption chiller), into industrial environments where these technologies are hitherto unfamiliar will hopefully help to break down perceived barriers – in the same way that the IRIS IbD project helped, we believe, to overcome some scepticism regarding PI in user industries.
After the research, the longevity/reliability of the systems needs to be shown to industry for it to accept them, in combination with supportive Life Cycle Assessments being carried out by Brunel University”.


Could you please provide us a brief Project Overview?

“ASTEP provides a launching point for the use of ‘high temperature’ solar thermal energy in the process industries which would until now either discount its use or only consider solar hot water or PV applications. By addressing the barriers associated with storage of this energy, allowing in some instances ‘24/7’ heat supply, industry in appropriate latitudes is being given another option to ‘green’ its processes”


Could you please think about a brief summary about this project for a non-academic audience, a take-home message?

“In common with engineering initiatives in most areas, an essential take-home message is that success depends upon competent and comprehensive design, manufacture, testing, integration and on-site proving of the technologies. Also, pay attention to the ‘standard’ components as well as the innovative ones! Either can fail! ASTEP intends to satisfy these criteria”


How have you brought your vast expertise into the project?

“I have been very fortunate in meeting and collaborating with many excellent scientists and engineers, both in industry and academia, over my working life. This has allowed me to bring a small group together (Richard, Peter, Ahmad and Chris) spanning the range of experience appropriate to ASTEP, from within my Associates. Additionally, they have all worked on EU projects, so are familiar with their unique organization and ‘peculiarities’”


What is your role and your company role in this project?

“David Reay & Associates (DRA) is involved in the specification and analysis of the thermal energy storage system, in conjunction with UPCT (Spain) and PWR (Poland). Our greatest effort will come in the second half of the project, where we will take on responsibility for the installation, commissioning, monitoring and validation of the ASTEP systems at Mandrekas Dairy in Greece and the steel pipe manufacturer, Arcelor Mittal in Romania. This will of course involve co-ordinating the activities of several other partners and the two host companies. Personally, I am currently Scientific and Innovation Manager, as well as chairing the Scientific and Technical Committee (with my colleague Richard Law deputising) and sitting on the Innovation Committee”


What are the challenges in this field? What will be the contribution of the ASTEP project?

“A principal challenge, as with perhaps most renewable energy projects applied to the process industries, is guaranteeing continuity of energy (in our case heat) supply. Many processes are non-seasonal and some require 24h/day operation. Both examples in ASTEP, a dairy and a steel tube manufacturer exhibit at least one of these characteristics. So particularly with solar energy sources, a necessity for cost-effective heat storage is evident – this being a major challenge in its own right!

A second challenge, helped in part by the geographical location of the host sites, is achieving the moderately high temperatures required by the processes – approximately 250oC. This demands specific types of solar collectors and the combination of high temperature and the need for good solar incidence challenges the replication potential of the solar technology. A contribution of Brunel University London in identifying other suitable host sites in the EU is thus important.

While the trials will hopefully demonstrate the contribution of solar thermal energy to two different sectors, there are few sites where ‘standard-sized’ unit operations may match the process needs. So, replication is not only a function of the location and process temperature needs – the eventual availability of a standard range of storge modules and collectors needs to be met.

Looking at decarbonisation, replacing thermal energy generated by fossil fuels with that from solar energy is a useful step. However, in the longer term, some may perceive this source of process heat as less attractive than using electric heating, electricity supplying many more operations on the sites.

So, while the challenges are several, the current contribution of ASTEP is potentially highly significant in that the integration of the thermal store and the SunDial collector (and in some cases with absorption chillers) should, if cost-effective, allow many companies to switch from fossil fuel heating to renewable energy at high temperatures”


Would you like to add any other comment?

“Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to ‘fly the flag’ for ASTEP.
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable support of Drs. Richard Law, Peter Kew and Ahmad Mustaffar, and Prof. Chris Underwood, my Associates active in this project. I also compliment Antonio Rovira on his role as Project Coordinator”


Thank you very much for your time.

Interviewer: Dr. Ruth Herrero, Dissemination Manager (UPCT)
Interviewee: Prof. David Reay, Scientific and Innovation manager (DRA)

Author and Executive editor: Gianna Avgousti (EBOS)