Williams keeps it cool: How F1 technology ended up on supermarket shelves


Credit: Williams Advanced Engineering

As talk over Formula 1‘s 2021 engine formula rumbles on, much debate among fans stems from the manufacturers’ desire for “road relevance”, facilitating the transfer of F1 developments to the common road car.

Yet, innovations with roots in F1 technology also tend to spread to other industries, and Williams Advanced Engineering has been heavily involved in the development of a pioneering solution which brings advancements from motorsport into stores across the UK.

Through its years of research and development into aerodynamics, Williams has linked up with tech start-up Aerofoil Energy Ltd to produce an aerofoil augmentation to the shelves of supermarket refrigerator units, which will be installed by the UK’s second-largest supermarket chain Sainsbury’s across 1,400 of its stores.

In testing, Williams Advanced Engineering has reported a reduction of up to 30% in energy usage with their developed aerofoil retrofitted to current refrigeration units, which should result in an energy saving of 44 million kilowatt-hours.

In a time where Formula 1 is looking to pioneer methods of harvesting wasted energy on the road, it’s refreshing to see such technology applied to a less exclusive sector of society.

“Working with Sainsbury’s shows how Formula One can be a vehicle for change,” says Craig Wilson, the Managing Director at Williams Advanced Engineering, “and is another example of how we engineer advantage for our customers.

“As air quality and sustainability concerns revolutionize traditional industries, there is huge growth potential for our business in deploying energy efficient technology in a range of sectors, not just automotive.

“Formula One is the ultimate R&D platform which can be applied beyond the racetrack to solve some of society’s most demanding challenges.”

How does it work?

Like aerofoils in Formula 1, the solution generated for the supermarket shelves works on the principle of keeping airflow “attached” over the aerofoil body.

In supermarket refrigerators, the cold air is released from a vent at the top of the unit, which flows downward. As the airflow passes downstream, it begins to flow outside the refrigerator unit, essentially wasting energy used to pump heat out of the refrigerator.

By attaching these aerofoils to the front of the supermarket shelf, the jet of cold air released by the top of the refrigerator creates an interface with the new aerofoil surface, following the curvature of the surface and deflecting inward back towards the chilled products.

In positioning aerofoils along the edges of each shelf, the “attachment” of airflow can be guaranteed in a similar manner to the multiple-element wings employed by current F1 teams.

The deflection of a fluid’s flow around the curvature of a surface is known as the Coanda effect, which was a phenomenon previously employed by a number of Formula 1 teams in the design of their exhaust outlets. In that instance, the intent was to direct a jet of airflow towards the edge of the floor in order to seal the diffuser.

Although the solution was primarily devised to reduce energy usage, Sainsbury’s shoppers will experience an extra added bonus. Picking up a bottle of milk is often a rather chilly experience but, thanks to the ingenuity of Williams Advanced Engineering and Aerofoil Energy, you won’t need to wrap up like Ernest Shackleton for it.