Pupils ‘pump it up’ with a ground-breaking idea to protect runways from freezing

A group of school pupils have devised an innovative way of protecting airport runways from freezing over.

Students from Inveralmond High School in Livingston worked with engineers from Japanese tech firm Mitsubishi on heat pump technology to stop icy blasts from causing airport winter shutdowns.

The team of third year pupils came up with the winning project idea, ‘Frost Fighter’, which uses air source heat pump technology, powered by solar panels to defrost runways at airports in temperatures as low as -15 degrees.

The design has won the 2019 Mitsubishi ‘Pump it Up’ School Challenge, an annual event organised by West Lothian Chamber of Commerce and Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning to promote early-stage engineering, innovation, design, renewable and environmental understanding.

An air source heat pump works by taking the heat from external air through a heat exchanger. The heat is absorbed by a fluid; the temperature of that fluid is increased by a compressor and the fluid is then passed through a plate heat exchanger transferring the heat to another medium such as water. This now heated water can be passed through pipes under the runway heating the surface to keep it free from ice and frost. The pupils claim that airports would no longer need to grit runways reducing the chances of flights being cancelling due to inclement weather.

Staying on a similar theme of transportation relating to ‘extreme’ weather issues,  runner-up in the 2019 Pump it Up Challenge was Broxburn Academy. Its pupils were awarded the ‘Green Energy’ accolade for a project entitled ‘Stay on Track’, an idea focused on using photovoltaic and heat pump technology to solve railway tracks expanding in hot summers and freezing in winter.

Joint runner-up, Whitburn Academy, was recognised for its teamwork with a project called ‘Comfort Creee’ – a temperature-controlled pram, a solution designed to maintain optimum temperatures for babies in prams.

Engineers from Mitsubishi Electric spent the past few weeks visiting all 11 West Lothian Secondary Schools to support the pupils understanding of the air source heat pump and the internal schools competitions selecting the team from each school that would to forward to the final.

Linda Scott, Chief Executive of West Lothian Chamber of Commerce, said: “All the finalists should be proud of their achievements. Each, in their own way,  gives us an insight into the nascent innovation and creativity which help these pupils design and adapt heat pump technology to best effect. Inveralmond’s idea is ground-breaking. Just think of the impact this thinking might have on planning airport runways in the future. This is a realistic solution to an important, potential life-saving issue.

Indeed, every presentation promotes a better level of understanding of ‘green’ energy’. This sits at the core of many STEM related innovations, but in broader terms, The ‘Pump It Up’ School Challenge helps with team building skills development and prepares pupils for life outside school and into which ever career or onward education path they subsequently choose.”

All 11 West Lothian secondary schools were represented at this year’s Pump It Up Challenge final, held at Howden Park and attended by over 100 guests, including Mr Nozomu Takaoka, Consul General for Japan in Edinburgh, Mr Yoshihiro Sumida, President Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Systems Europe, Fiona Hyslop, MSP for Linlithgow, Cllr David Dodds and West Lothian Provost Tom Kerr, amongst representatives from businesses, local authority and education across West Lothian.