Oxford spin-out develops low-cost pressure regulator

A smaller, lighter, and more efficient pressure regulator could significantly reduce the need for water pipe inspection and maintenance, cutting costs and minimising disruption.


The regulator, developed by Oxford Flow, a spin-out from Oxford University and backed by a £320m investment group, is 80 per cent lighter than existing technologies and is considerably cheaper to manufacture than existing devices.

The pressure regulation/pressure reducing valve (PRV) can be made from either plastic or metals, allowing it to be used in a range of applications including water, oil and gas transmission.

The technology was developed by the university’s Prof Tom Povey, while carrying out research into gas turbines, jet engines and scramjets, alongside Rolls-Royce. He became frustrated when even the best commercially available regulators were not capable of handling the high pressures and flows typical of his experiments, and so set about designing his own.

Unlike conventional PRVs, the devices are not based on the use of a flexible diaphragm. These are typically made from elastomers, and can become fatigued, brittle, or erode, meaning they need regular inspection and replacement, increasing costs and the risk of failures.

Instead the Oxford Flow devices have a simpler design, based around a direct sensing piston actuator. One side of the piston is exposed to downstream pipeline pressure, while the other is balanced against a pressure cavity controlled by a pilot regulator.

When the downstream pipeline pressure exceeds that within the pressure cavity, the piston moves inwards, reducing the size of the cavity. As it does so, it progressively moves over a number of feed holes, covering them and thereby reducing the flow rate. This allows the piston to maintain a stable downstream pressure.

“When demand increases the downstream pressure falls below that set by the pilot and the reverse operation occurs, the cavity expands as the pilot feeds it, opening the flow path, which increases flow and maintains a stable downstream pressure,” said Povey.

The devices are compact and lightweight, and have just one moving part. They also have high accuracy, said Povey.

“The Oxford regulators have a fast acting, very precise control of flow over the full operating range,” he said.

The reduced size and weight of the devices, alongside their increased reliability and the flexibility to produce them in a range of materials, mean they have already attracted interest from the water industry, the company said.

They could also be used for handling other liquids such as oil, petrochemicals or drilling fluids, and for gas transmission.

“These designs could also be used in the processing and manufacturing industries, where while, for example, transferring materials from one container to another, very precise flow control is required,” said Povey.