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MU Industrial Assessment Center continues growth

Top: Sandina Ponte examines a nameplate during an energy audit on Oct. 4. Bottom: MoIAC members with Rutgers field manager team on Oct. 4. Pictured (left to right) Chatchai Pinthuprapa, Bin Wu, Sandina Ponte, Field Manager Don Kasten, Tao Qu, Sanjeev Khanna, Bichen Barnett Zheng, Lexie Kim (Oak Ridge National Library) and Field Manager Blake Boyer.

Top: Sandina Ponte examines a nameplate during an energy audit on Oct. 4. Bottom: MoIAC members with Rutgers field manager team on Oct. 4. Pictured (left to right) Chatchai Pinthuprapa, Bin Wu, Sandina Ponte, Field Manager Don Kasten, Tao Qu, Sanjeev Khanna, Bichen Barnett Zheng, Lexie Kim (Oak Ridge National Library) and Field Manager Blake Boyer.

In 2006 when the University of Missouri’s Industrial Assessment Center (MoIAC) first opened its doors in Columbia, Director Bin Wu foresaw success — but that “success” has now developed into a reputation that has benefited companies and the IAC program alike.

MoIAC is one of 26 centers across the nation selected and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as a resource and service center for industrial energy efficiency.  It has been active in many areas related to industrial energy efficiency in the state of Missouri, such as research and development, education, and outreach.

In particular, Wu, Assistant Director Sanjeev Khanna and their student team conduct energy assessments of manufacturers around the state to determine areas they can modify to save money. Some of the most common energy waste areas include lighting, heating and air conditioning, and various electronic functions.

But what began as a five-year program grant is now recognized as a well-established and legitimate statewide service.

“We have become a true center of resources and services to the industries in Missouri.” Wu said, adding that when companies contact state agencies about energy-saving measures, they are referred to MoIAC.

According to the latest DOE statistics, MU’s IAC ranks six, out of the 26 centers across the nation in the amount of actual reduction achieved through industrial implementation of energy saving measures.

A team of DOE representatives made a visit in early October to discuss previous and future efforts. They also discussed the integrated, web-based tool developed by Wu and his team. The model can be adapted and developed for each entity’s specific needs allowing them to conduct an independent energy audit.

Chatchai Pinthurprapa, the center’s lead student engineer who is largely responsible for the implementation of the tool, said he hopes to create a program not just for use on the computer, but a portable device that people can take through their facility as they conduct the audit.

Since its establishment, the IAC has conducted more than 60 assessments to manufacturing plants in Missouri including a car dashboard maker, a foil paper printing plant, a printing publisher and an aluminum foundry. The center partnered with Columbia Water & Light to conduct an energy audit for the Columbia Water Treatment plant and co-hosted a motor assessment-training event to provide information about skills and techniques to the public.

The assessment process consists of five main steps. The first is a “utility data analysis” in which the team evaluates the existing energy system. Here results reveal the area that accounts for the largest energy use. Utility bills are collected to determine reoccurring trends and the rate structures are studied.

The next step is a “usage analysis” to identify energy consumption equipment from the pre-audit form each company submits. The form reveals company loading and hours of operation. Third comes the “benchmark” step to use equipment specifications to identify a baseline for the facility. From there the IAC team uses the benchmark as a reference to estimate potential energy savings. The last two steps are a “walk-through audit”, to learn more about the facility, and finally a recommendation of “evaluated energy savings” — a summary of all collected data throughout the process presented with potential savings from different practices.

And these potential savings add up.

According to the DOE, a small-to-medium sized company that participates in IAC audits saves an average of $55,000 each year.

“Last week, a company wrote to me to let me know that our audit has cut their actual energy consumption and costs by 13.9 percent per year,” said Wu.

Benefitting equally from the program are the students who are involved with the center. In the past two years, five of Wu’s industrial engineering students have moved to energy efficiency leadership positions within their businesses or organizations.

“We have exposed hundreds of students to real-life experiences that have given them tools to start their own energy initiatives,” Wu said.

Sandina Ponte, a 2003 graduate of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, is one of the students who continues to benefit from what she learned as part of the program. Ponte worked with IAC during graduate school and currently works in Jefferson City at ABB Inc., one of the largest transformer manufacturers in the world.

“People say they want to improve their energy efficiency, but they don’t know how or don’t have the resources so it’s on the bottom of their list,” Ponte said.

“I am institutionalizing the IAC current procedures and making them fit ABB. This is a multinational, so we will have to standardize for 100 or more countries.”

According to Wu, the center’s goals are to continue developing the energy assessment program, make the information public and to provide ideal tips for organizations to adopt and make relevant to their own structures.

“Most important of all,” Wu said, “I wish to educate the next generation of energy-savvy engineers and professionals to safe-guard our future.”