U Engineers Help Businesses Save on Energy Costs

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Saving energy is a bit more complex than just knowing when to turn out the lights.

For businesses, cutting down on the electric bill can involve fine-tuning machinery, optimizing industrial systems, or making the heating and ventilation system more efficient.

That’s why University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor Kody Powell and mechanical engineering assistant professor Amanda Smith started the Intermountain Industrial Assessment Center. This energy auditing program, which launched late last year, involves expert faculty and students evaluating manufacturing businesses and coming up with the best ways these companies can save energy and therefore money. The group has received a $1.8 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch the center.

“It’s no cost to the facility to use this,” said Powell, who is a director of the center along with Smith. “We spend one working day in the facility taking measurements, collecting data and evaluating the functionality and efficiency of the systems.”

Both graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty members look at a variety of manufacturing operations, including the compressed air system and boilers to make sure they are operating well. The team of engineers also looks at heating and air conditioning units and production and electrical systems to see if they are operating efficiently. To prepare for the work, the students have been training at the university’s Industrial Combustion and Gasification Research Facility in downtown Salt Lake City (pictured).

After the day, the group then spends several weeks making engineering and economic calculations and produces a report recommending what the company should do to save more energy, how much it can save each year based on those recommendations and how much it will cost to implement the improvements.

“It’s daunting, but we go in and put our heads together, and we come out with five to 10 ideas to help save energy,” Powell said.

In the last several months, the center has helped local businesses such as a baked goods company, a medical devices manufacturer, a local brewery and a defense contractor. Powell said the recommendations they made to those companies frequently have very low implementation cost. “So far, we’re averaging about 15 percent in energy savings,” he said. “For one of them, it’s going to be about $200,000 in savings.”

Powell said the program also has been a huge benefit for the chemical and mechanical engineering students who work on it.

“It’s an awesome experience for our students,” he said. “They are getting into actual manufacturing plants and getting exposure to a lot of real-world industry problems.”

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