Congratulations to the University of Utah’s Intermountain Industrial Assessment Center (IIAC), which was awarded a 2022 Green Business Award from Utah Business Magazine and Rocky Mountain Power. The award, which was given in the category of Energy Conservation, is one of a group of honors for companies, communities, and individuals “who are improving our air quality, reducing our emissions, and making strides toward our state’s environmental sustainability.”

Click here to see a list of this year’s honorees.

The IIAC — one of 39 such U.S. Department of Energy IACs around the country — sends teams of faculty and student researchers to a manufacturer who make a day-long assessment of its plant operations. Their job: to analyze where production schedules or system upgrades can be tweaked to save the company money in energy costs, curb its draw of energy from the city’s power grid, and reduce pollution.

The center, which is led by co-directors Julie Sieving and University of Utah chemical engineering associate professor Kody Powell, looks at whether a facility can be flexible on when certain operations run to determine whether those processes can be turned on only during off-peak hours. It also considers whether the manufacturer can generate its own power with distributed energy generation systems to lower its reliance on the power grid.

Finally, the team uses other software tools to determine what kinds of system optimization can be made on the fly based on changing conditions, such as adjusting the operation of a cooling tower due to shifts in the humidity or temperature.

Since the center launched in 2016, it has analyzed about 100 manufacturing plants in Utah and surrounding states and was awarded in 2020 the Center of Excellence Award by the DOE for the highest-performing IAC in the country.

In one case study, a regional mining plant that pumps water as part of its operations was wasting money and electricity because of when that water was used. After an analysis, the center’s team devised a better solution: use solar panels for the power to pump water during the day and store extra water in tanks that can be used for operations at night. “Adding solar itself will save them $270,000 per year in energy costs, but when they combine it with the water storage, they can save $755,000 per year,” Powell said.

In another case, the center helped a company that manufacturers aircraft parts by creating an algorithm that determined better scheduling of its operations to reduce energy usage during peak demand. “If manufacturers operate a little more intelligently, they can become a big asset for the whole power grid,” Powell said. “They could do things like schedule their processes so that the more energy-intensive processes could be done at off-peak times.”

Based on their work thus far, the center’s consultants can save businesses anywhere from $20,000 to $600,000 per year in energy costs as well as cut down on emissions.