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Tap into technology

Has the kettle had its day? Hazel Randell from Omni Search believes that water dispensers based on heat exchange technology are the smart solution for today’s office

Office tea break. One staff member leaves his desk early to put the kettles on. Five minutes later, colleagues troop into the kitchenette and take turns to make their drinks. The kettles are passed along the counter, handed from one person to another. Someone opens a window to let out the steam – and there are complaints about the cold. The boss grumbles over the lost heat.

The electric kettle has been around for more than a century, an invention driven by Homo sapiens’ taste for infused Camellia sinensis leaves. We all love a cup of tea. In ancient China, soldiers boiled water in kettles over a fire, adding green tea leaves for flavour, while in Europe the added flavour came from cereal grain – a precursor of malt beer. It was, however, the ancient Mesopotamians, inventors of agriculture, mathematics and the wheel, who were the very first to use kettles.

In Australia, the earliest water heater was the billycan, a word that some say derives from ‘billa’, the Aboriginal word for water. But it’s more generally accepted that the word derives from the large cans that were used for transporting ‘bouilli’, or bully beef, on Australia-bound ships. When the beef had been consumed, these containers were modified for boiling water over a fire.

The old stovetop kettle and its modern counterpart, the electric kettle, have served us well. But imagine a water heater unit that is tucked away, out of sight, with only an elegant tap on show – a tap that dispenses up to 100 cups of hot, filtered water per hour. A tap that also dispenses chilled water.

RECYCLING THERMAL ENERGY
The under-counter water heater, operated by sophisticated heat exchange technology, is becoming a familiar feature in high end offices all over the world. Cost-effective, eco-friendly, and time-efficient, these innovative filtered water systems require no grilles or ventilation space.

Thermal energy is recycled all around us: in domestic boilers, industrial plants, the internal combustion engine. A heat exchanger enables the transfer of heat between fluids (liquids and gases), usually without any direct contact. Spent thermal energy is harvested and put to use within the machine that produced it.

The Billi heat exchange system is a unique process that makes maximum use of surplus by-product heat generated from the compressor, regenerating it efficiently. When any refrigerator runs, it generates unwanted heat that needs to be dealt with. Some refrigerators use a fan and ventilation, others have a large, unsightly condenser on the back of the unit. But the Billi system recovers that heat and uses it to pre-heat the water coming into the boiler.

This has three benefits. First, it massively reduces the power required to heat the water. When heating a litre of water, 90 per cent of the energy is used to heat the water from cold to 50ᵒC. The water coming off the compressor is around 50ᵒC, so 90 per cent of that energy is immediately saved.

Second, it rapidly reduces the recovery time. It’s like refilling your kettle with water that is halfway to boiling point. And third, because the water is heated only in the final stage to boiling, more litres of boiling water can be produced in an hour than other systems, even though less energy is used. That’s a win-win.

By engaging heat exchange technology, designers of corporate and domestic water dispensers have hit on the ideal solution for providing a space-saving, eco-friendly, cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing drinking water supply. These units occupy a small space under a counter, produce a minimal carbon footprint, and represent a sound financial investment.

EASY ON THE EYE
The aesthetic quality of these sleek, contemporary-style taps should also appeal to businesses. When hosting a corporate event, every aspect of the venue counts in making a good impression. The clean, minimalist appearance of the units is as important to a firm’s image as the crystal-clear taste of filtered water, or the intelligent design of taps with adjustable temperature controls and regulated flow.

The heat exchange technology helps make this kind of boiled and chilled water dispenser compliant with corporate social responsibility (CSR) guidelines. CSR is defined by The Financial Times as ‘a movement aimed at encouraging companies to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of society.’ These units also contribute to a high score with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), a mandatory energy assessment programme for organisations in the UK.

Many companies have opted for under-counter water heaters that use heat exchange technology. The combination of functionality and pleasing aesthetics, the machines’ ability to dispense through peak periods, and their low environmental impact are just a few of the factors to consider when contemplating conversion to this new method of producing boiling and chilled water.

The after-care programme offers further benefits to business users. Regular maintenance and filter changes are important to the smooth running of these hard-working appliances, and comprehensive after-care provided by a professional maintenance service offers peace of mind.

So let’s look at a different kind of office tea break. This office has an under-counter water heater, with only an elegant black and chrome tap visible. It takes just a couple of minutes to prepare hot and cold drinks for the 15 staff members. Refills are quick and easy, and morale is high as the chatter continues, unhindered by restrictive cables, empty kettles and accidental spills.

The boss is happy. He knows that this refreshment system is using 802 watts per hour, as opposed to the 3,500 watts per hour that were being used up by the kettles. The cost of powering this unit is 10p per day – a drop from the 42p per day that the kettles were costing him.

The little water heater/chiller works hard throughout the 12-hour day. As the staff leave the office, it goes into sleep mode, saving its energy until it’s next needed.

About Sarah OBeirne

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