Tech among 32 schools to use $60M DOE investment to increase industry energy efficiency

Aug 18, 2021 | Engineering and Science, General News, Innovation, Research, Students

Louisiana Tech is one of 32 universities the Department of Energy (DOE) is investing in to help local manufacturers improve their energy efficiency.

At the heart of this $60 million investment to reduce manufacturers’ carbon footprint is the DOE Industrial Assessment Centers (IAC) program that offers no-cost energy efficiency recommendations to small and medium-sized manufacturers and wastewater treatment facilities.

The Tech-led IAC was approved for funding based on a proposal that assembles the existing resources of four campuses, led by Tech but supported by Grambling State University, Louisiana Delta Community College, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“The center will capitalize on our existing faculty strengths in multiple departments,” Tech Executive Associate Vice President for Research and Partnerships Dr. Sumeet Dua said. “The center’s activities will undoubtedly impact the extent and the types of new talent that we bring on board at Tech.”

“At a time when our region faces so many workforce challenges, establishing an Industrial Assessment Center at Louisiana Tech will not only help get more of our citizens on the job, it will also make major long term contributions to the Fifth District,” said U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La.

This group of university IACs, including the one led by Tech, will focus on improving productivity, enhancing cybersecurity, promoting resiliency planning, and providing training to entities located in disadvantage communities.

It will also help to train the next generation of energy-engineering professionals. IACs equip students with theoretical and practical skills needed to conduct on-site evaluations of regional industrial operations with a primary focus on energy efficiency. Student and faculty teams will be conducting these evaluations at the invitation of participating small and medium-sized industrial enterprises. IAC resources will completely fund these evaluations.

“The students will also learn the principles and applications for evaluating opportunities for improving environmental sustainability, weather-related resilience, cyber-security, smart manufacturing, and opportunities to transition from carbon-based energy sources to other cost-effective alternatives,” Dua said. “Evaluation results and recommendations stemming from industry site visits will be further supported by resource recommendations to help these enterprises get the most promising ideas implemented.”

These resources include local and federal entities that can provide implementation expertise and project funding. Examples of these resource entities include electric utility programs, DOE programs, and federally funded operations such as the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana (MEP of LA).

“They all can provide valuable support for enhancing energy efficiency, sustainability, resilience, and identifying advanced technology and cyber-security opportunities,” Dua said. “It’s anticipated that recommendations will also be implemented through university programs.”

These university programs include IAC-sponsored research grants, Capstone Senior Design projects, and other special programs that industry-IAC partnerships will fund. IAC-sponsored internships with regional industry partners will also place students in work settings that will enable them to learn and apply energy efficiency principles on the job.

“These activities will actively support Tech’s mission to provide unparalleled educational experiences to our students using an integrated learning approach,” Dua said.

In addition, students will learn how to search for opportunities to reduce carbon footprints in ways that will also increase productivity. In some cases, this may involve helping enterprises to meet environmental compliance challenges that they may be confronting cost-effectively.

“In addition to the evident societal impact, these efforts improve the companies’ employee satisfaction and operating costs,” Dua said. “Initiatives such as these can put our region on the map to address this global challenge using novel research and partnerships.”

This new partnership is one more of many that Tech has entered into to offer students more opportunities while helping area industries, which have often used the Capstone Senior Design programs at Tech and at other participating universities to benefit the local economy. Tech has been at the forefront of those regional efforts. Formation of the IAC will significantly advance the pace at which these and other industry-academic partnerships will grow.

“Information provided by our regional industries estimates that the Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Program at Tech alone is benefiting the economy at a rate of $11 million per year,” Dr. Henry Cardenas, the project’s Principal Investigator, said. “In 2016, Cameron-Schlumberger identified this program in the ‘Global Top-5’ category in senior design. The launch of this multi-campus IAC is expected to expand the reach and scope of these industry-academic partnerships significantly. It would not be a surprise if the economic benefits of this new center would increase the current benefits by a factor of 3-to-5. It is exciting to visualize an industry-academic program that could soon be posting financial benefits to the regional economy that may be significantly more than the state government funding they may receive.

“These types of gains can help enhance the solid recognition that our participating institutions currently exhibit,” said Cardenas, who is also an Associate Professor and Director of Tech’s Senior Design Consortium. “The explicit focus on experiential learning and the conducive environment supported by the outstanding faculty and students will make this project a success and a national model. We are very appreciative of DOE’s recognition and support of these efforts.”

Since its inception, the program has provided nearly 20,000 no-cost assessments for small-and-medium-sized manufacturers and more than 147,000 recommendations for improvement measures. IACs typically identify more than $130,000 in potential annual savings opportunity for every manufacturer assessed, nearly $50,000 of which is implemented during the first year following the assessment.