“The easiest way to save money is to waste less energy,” President Barack Obama said during his recent State of the Union address just before proposing to help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. “
“Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs,” the president said.
Mr. President, meet Carl Irwin.
Irwin is co-coordinator of Industries of the Future-West Virginia, a program of WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, which has helped companies all over the U.S. reduce energy waste. Established in 1997 as a partnership with the WV Division of Energy and U.S. Department of Energy, IOF-WV was the country’s first state-level energy efficiency initiative.
West Virginia’s role as an “energy state” and its frequent collaboration with the state DOE made it a natural choice for its role in energy assessment and cost-saving recommendations, said Jeff Herholdt, an IOF-WV coordinator and director of WV Division of Energy.
Irwin worked with Herholdt to establish the initiative and it has grown over time to become a national resource. IOF works to form partnerships with companies, government agencies at the state and federal level and the University. The R&D value of IOF-WV to the state is valued at more than $38 million, according to Irwin.
“Some of our projects have been national where we had partners from all over the country,” Irwin said. “Our biggest project was developing new advanced materials to help make the steel industry more efficient.”
By improving functions and techniques at Wheeling Nisshin, a plant that specializes in producing coated and stainless steel typically used for high strength, lightweight automotive body applications, IOF has been an engine for economic development. By saving the Wheeling-based business millions of dollars, it has also bolstered the state’s economy. And it created a model that can increase similar steel production nation-wide.
Key to the improvement is upgrading the “hot dipping” process, in which a galvanized coating is applied to sheet steel to protect it from corrosion, rust and deterioration. IOF and WVU scientists recommended new alloys that extend the life of the sheet steel and is also less corrosive on the equipment used in the coating process. Because of corrosion, the process had frequent interruptions, which resulted in downtime at plants.
“This is efficient because you don’t have to shut down the line to put in new materials because they last longer,” Irwin said. “You keep production up and save a lot of energy by not shutting down.”
There are approximately 90 steel sheet hot-dip galvanizing operations in North America with an annual capacity of producing more than 26 million tons of galvanized steel.
According to Irwin, IOF’s recommendations have not only saved energy and money but also extended the life of the galvanizing equipment used by five times its previous lifespan, saving enormous amounts of energy.
Companies in the private sector seeking to reduce energy waste will often attach an engineer to IOF as a concierge to see find out how to be more efficient, Irwin said.
The IOF has also explored energy use in aluminum and glass production and has promoted innovation in using coal as a clean energy source by capturing the emissions and using them for other tasks. Irwin said the WVU Department of Chemistry is looking for safe uses for carbon dioxide, coal’s chief emission.
“Carbon dioxide can be converted into a useful product like methanol. It just takes a lot of energy to do so,” said Ed Crowe, engineering scientist for IOF-WV Energy Efficiency Division. “That’s why researchers are developing a catalyst to allow less energy to be used to make those products.”
IOF is not the only WVU resource helping to steer the nation in a different direction.
The WVU Industrial Assessment Center is working with the DOE and IOF to improve efficiency in the economy through grants and training programs for WVU students.
“The IAC at WVU will receive over $1.5 million (from DOE) over the next five years to train students and help companies identify energy efficiency measures,” said Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan, IAC director. “I think the importance of energy efficiency and the increase in energy prices will influence governmental decisions on project funding in the future.”
In most cases, companies lack the time or resources to identify issues of efficiency in their buildings, equipment or procedures. The WVU IAC performs its services free of charge but it’s up to the companies’ decision-makers to act on the recommendations.
Larger companies tend to pay heed as they typically have more money and resources to implement energy saving changes such as more efficient lighting or HVAC systems that ultimately pay for themselves. The IAC also provides assessments to small, rural businesses and farms thanks to an USDA funded an initiative that began in 2009.
Partnering with the WVU Extension Service, the IAC Center first assessed a poultry farm in the Eastern Panhandle. The program quickly expanded to include small businesses and offer opportunities to more West Virginians.
“People in companies are busy fighting fires and getting their products out the door so a fresh set of eyes such as ourselves who have no axe to grind and have an academic background is critical to them, to provide valuable input more than perhaps a vendor company,” Gopalakrishnan said. “Many small to medium enterprises provide most of the jobs in the U.S. and they can get significant reductions in operating costs through energy savings and increase their profit margins.”
The IAC has helped more than 400 companies throughout the region save money since the program was started in 1992. Praxair Inc., an international company that specializes in gases for industrial use, saved $36,000 over three years, Gopalakrishnan said.
The demand for the Center and its services will likely grow in the future, and Gopalakrishnan is taking steps to meet the demand.
“WVU students are the most important resource here,” he said. “Every student I get out there into the workforce is one more warrior in the war against energy wastage and in support of sustainability.”
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