BeeSave turns up heat on parasitic varroa mite

Researchers at Nottingham University are developing BeeSave, an eco-friendly alternative to pesticides against the varroa mite, one of the biggest threats to honeybees in the UK.

Image by Suzanne D. Williams from Pixabay

BeeSave is a patented, self-heating pack, being promoted by Professor Saffa Riffat, Fellow of the European Academy of Sciences and President of the World Society of Sustainable Technologies and his research team at the University.

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Bees as pollinators are critically important to produce vegetables and fruits, providing the first step in the flowering/fruiting process. They are essential to flowering plants and the other wildlife and the loss of a small fraction of honeybees would damage the agricultural industries that depend on them and threaten to make food more expensive.

The drop in Britain’s bee population has been exacerbated by the varroa mite, which is a parasite of Asian bees that transferred to European worker bees and has been reported in the UK honeybee population since 1992.

Varroa mites can feed and live on adult honeybees, but they mainly infest their larvae and pupae, causing malformations and killing off hives. The use of pesticides against varroa is potentially harmful to bees as well as their honey.

Thermal treatment is safer than any chemical alternative as the temperature required only affects the parasite at the cellular level and can be applied repeatedly without the parasite building resistance. However, the thermal method presents many challenges and complications in its application. Researchers at Nottingham University found a way to overcome these limitations by using phase change material packs (PCMs).

The BeeSave pack uses a supercooled PCM which releases heat at 42oC after being triggered by a small electric charge.

“The pack is similar to a hand warmer,” Prof. Riffat told The Engineer. “If you heat a normal PCM – say wax – it goes into a liquid. The wax is then solidified after a short period of time as it loses heat to the surrounding room/environment. You cannot control the time you wish the wax to go back into a solid. The supercooled PCM remains liquid at room temperature, just like inside a very well insulated box. You can activate/solidify the supercooled PCM at any time when you need the heat.”

He added that each BeeSave pack can be used over 100 times and that each pack can remain at 42oC for two hours or more.

“We can increase or decrease the time required by using more or less PCM,” he said.

During the heat treatment, the PCM packs are inserted at the bottom boards of the beehives. Once there, they release heat and increase the temperature inside. According to the University, this technique has proven to be effective, resulting in the immediate drop of the varroa mite from the brood box to the floor of the beehive. Additional studies have demonstrated that the treatment is harmless to honey and larvae.

To develop the packs, Nottingham University worked with PCM Products Ltd as a project partner. Prof. Riffat and his team are now working beehive manufacturer EH Thorne Ltd to commercialise BeeSave packs.

Innovate UK provided £400,00 financial support for the BeeSave project.