UConn is participating in a massive national research effort to help local manufacturers reduce their carbon footprint.
Associate professor in the School of Engineering, Liang Zhang, will lead the team, in collaboration with the University of New Haven. This work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
“We are excited to bring a DOE IAC to Connecticut for the first time in the history of the IAC program,” Zhang says. “This is long overdue for Connecticut, and we believe that it will bring significant benefits to the state’s environment and economic development efforts through its service to the large number of small and medium manufacturers in the area.”
The project’s $3.4 million budget is part of the $60 million effort dispersed across 32 universities in 28 states. This is the largest-ever cohort of university-based Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs). These centers are tasked with helping small and medium-sized manufacturers reduce their carbon emissions, lower energy costs, and train the next generation of energy-efficient workers.
“This is great news for Connecticut’s environment and economy,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said following the DOE announcement. “UConn’s work as one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Centers will help local manufacturers cut emissions and energy costs while training the future generation of engineers, and I’m glad to see Connecticut as part of this major investment in clean energy.”
There are nine faculty from UConn and the University of New Haven on this project. Other UConn personnel are Amy Thompson, associate professor-in-residence of systems engineering and associate director for the UTC Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering; Ugur Pasaogullari, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Clean Energy Engineering; Baikun Li, professor of environmental engineering; and Haitham Ghalwash, assistant professor-in-residence of computer science and Engineering.
This is long overdue for Connecticut, and we believe that it will bring significant benefits to the state’s environment and economic development efforts. — Liang Zhang
Zhang and his team will work with manufacturers in southern New England and New York, an area that has been historically underserved by existing IACs. There are more than 1,000 small and medium-sized manufacturing companies in Connecticut, yet IACs have conducted only 37 assessments in the state in the past 10 years.
Connecticut is home to major manufacturing hubs for the aerospace and naval industries. Large companies such as Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace, Electric Boat, and Sikorsky are based in Connecticut and have many smaller associated manufacturers supporting their supply chain.
Other small and medium-sized manufacturers in eastern Connecticut have suffered from a lack of in-house research and development capabilities and the inability to bring in new technologies, products, and practices.
By collaborating with the University of New Haven, the IAC will be able to extend its geographic reach.
The UConn-University of New Haven IAC will provide manufacturers with free, comprehensive audit services and consultation about how they can reduce their environmental impact. Some areas the IAC will focus on include saving energy, adopting renewable energy sources, reducing water usage, minimizing industrial waste, strengthening cyber security, and improving productivity.
The IAC will work with clients to identify specific, attainable ways they can reduce their environmental impact.
The world-class research on smart manufacturing, building systems, energy, and wastewater treatment the faculty at these universities are conducting makes this collaboration well-positioned to address the challenges these manufacturers face.
UConn will also draw upon its longstanding relationships with Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Department of Economic Community Development, utility companies, regional industry associations, and Quantum Biopower, an anaerobic digestion facility in Southington.
In particular, utility companies, the United Illuminating Company and Eversource Energy, will contribute $600k of funding to the IAC over five years and will lend their expert resources for assessing energy savings. They will determine rebates and incentives for implementing energy-efficiency measures. They will help the IAC identify manufactures in need of help through energy audits.
The business associations, including Aerospace Component Manufacturers, Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, ManufactureCT, Connecticut Manufacturers Resource Group, and the Naval & Maritime Consortium, will help the IAC establish a far-reaching network to identify prospective clients, promote the IAC’s services, and perform outreach to manufacturers, who are not able to directly participate in IAC assessments. These business associations maintain a network of hundreds of member companies in Connecticut and nearby states and can help the IAC identify clients in disadvantaged communities and minority-owned companies to enhance the diversity of communities and businesses the IAC serves.
The IAC will work directly with clients to identify sustainability projects that are eligible for CT Green Bank funding. CT Green Bank is a state program focused on promoting the adoption of renewable energy by funneling private investments into clean energy projects. This approach will allow the IAC to facilitate the transition of their assessments and consultations into direct funding and speedy implementation.
As part of the IAC mission, the IAC will also help train students in the skills they need to improve industrial energy efficiency and gain hands-on experience completing assessments of small-to-medium manufacturing enterprises. In addition, they will learn energy efficiency enhancement techniques in water treatment facilities through collaboration with the UConn Water Pollution Control Facility and Quantum Biopower.
“This program will help to build a vibrant future workforce of energy engineers for Connecticut and the region, supporting commercial and industrial customers,” Zhang says. “The adventure has just begun, and we expect a lot of hard work leading to sustaining success here at UConn.”