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Energy efficiency initiatives join forces under MU’s Mizzou Advantage program

Four men next to industrial pipes.

Engineering faculty members and industry partners from different disciplines have joined together to tackle six areas of energy efficiency under the umbrella of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Research Center (MEERC). Above, key players include, from left to right, Shawn Xu, associate research professor in civil and environmental engineering; MEERC Director Robert Reed, a research professor of civil and environmental engineering; Leon Schumacher, professor of agricultural systems management; and Sanjeev Khanna, LaPierre Professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Viewpoints vary widely on approaches this country could and should take to increase domestic energy production, yet few would debate that energy efficiency — the use of less energy to accomplish a given task — is a sensible place to begin. A goal of energy efficiency will result in conservation of resources and money that can be used to improve lives in a variety of additional ways. It also encourages both a closer look at current practices and increases the chances of innovative research to improve efficiency. Ultimately, a move toward energy efficiency will create jobs and result in reduced impact on the environment.

In addition to residential and industrial applications, there is keen interest in the topic of energy efficiency in the business sector as well as the construction industry. University of Missouri researchers have taken note and a number of independent efforts and programs have been initiated across campus to address various aspects of energy conservation. Schemes for these initiatives to join forces have been on a low simmer, but with the initiation of Mizzou Advantage — a campus program with an emphasis on interdisciplinary research in targeted areas, including sustainable energy — those plans have become reality. A consortium of six campus energy initiatives has come together as the Midwest Energy Efficiency Research Consortium (MEERC).

The six areas of energy efficiency impact include four with emphasis on areas of energy technology: lighting; high performance buildings; low energy heating and cooling; and energy solutions and research. Two additional foci take aim at major energy consumers in the Midwest: agriculture and water and wastewater facilities.

“No one has the components that we have on this campus in energy interdisciplinary relations,” said Robert Reed, a research professor of civil and environmental engineering who will serve as MEERC director. “It provides us with the opportunity to cooperate with others and working together we are stronger.”

Key collaborators in laying the groundwork for MEERC include Cerry Klein, professor of industrial engineering and facilitator of the Mizzou Advantage Sustainable Energy initiative, and Sanjeev Khanna, an MU mechanical engineering professor with a background in industrial and rural energy efficiency initiatives.

In its comprehensive approach to the broad topic of energy efficiency, MEERC has set some ambitious goals for itself. First and foremost, the group would like to educate those in public, private, academic, business and industry sectors about the various advantages and the value inherent in the practice of energy efficiency.

The center aims to build partnerships with other academic institutions, businesses and agencies in order to make academic courses and training programs available to those who can most benefit from them and then move forward to put the knowledge into play for students; design, construction and operations agencies; and business professionals.

“It’s a needs-based, results-oriented approach,” said Khanna, adding that such a program will be greatly beneficial to MU students.

“Our students will be involved in interdisciplinary training and internships in practice of future professions in this industry,” he said.

A related affiliation partnership with other MU colleges and programs will offer a graduate certificate in energy efficiency and also will provide a foundation for potential energy policy-setting guidance at the state or even the national level.

Energy research is a key component of the program. MEERC plans to build relationships with industry and government agencies to identify needs and follow through with research and development partnerships that will aid in putting new energy technologies developed by its centers into play.

Modeled on a successful program administered at the University of California-Davis, response to MU’s initial efforts has been gratifying.

“We are getting an unbelievable response nationally, not just in mid-Missouri,” said Reed, adding that a major international retailer with Missouri ties has expressed interest in working with MEERC in order to make various aspects of their business model more sustainable through local producer cooperatives and energy efficiency measures.

Associated Electric Cooperative, which serves 51 distribution cooperatives in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma, has voiced interest in partnering with MEERC through their municipal energy efficiency loan and grant program. The Missouri Public Utility Alliance, a not-for-profit service organization that represents municipally owned electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and broadband utilities, also is in discussion with MEERC about collaborations.

Additionally, a number of academic entities have weighed in as MEERC partners, including Wichita State University. Faculty there has a keen interest in energy efficiency in healthcare settings, also an area of great potential on the MU campus and throughout the country.

Faculty working within two programs at University of Arkansas have responded favorably to affiliations with MEERC: the poultry science program sees potential in the poultry facility geothermal work being conducted by Shawn Xu, MU civil engineering research associate professor. The U of A’s municipal sustainability program also is interested in collaboration.

“We are reaching out and bringing together all of the resources here at MU and those of outside organizations for the impact the energy efficiency industry needs,” said Reed.

“In chorus, we can offer a more holistic approach and a better result for all of our partners and the results they need for their various programs. It’s like a department store approach: everything you need in one place.”

The six MEERC consortium partner centers, their specializations and those leading the efforts for each are as follows:

The Agricultural Energy Efficiency Center will concentrate on production and value-added agricultural energy users. The development of innovative crop techniques to save water and energy, and best practices with high-efficiency mechanized equipment are also areas of interest. Leon Schumacher, professor of agricultural systems management, serves as director.

The Energy Solutions and Research Center will work to monitor and verify energy and water consumption and conservation. Work will involve product development and testing, creating technical content and market research for corporate firms. This center will synthesize research from the other five areas. Sanjeev Khanna, LaPierre Professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and assistant director of the Missouri Industrial Assessment Center, serves as director.

The High Performance Buildings Center’s specialty is energy efficiency and indoor air quality in homes and small commercial buildings. Work will include both new construction and those retrofitted with new technologies. Matt Belcher, president of Belcher Custom Homes serves as director.

The Lighting Research Center targets energy efficient lighting and the appropriateness of lighting as research targets. Richard Holmes, former senior advisor for industrial initiatives at Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance of Chicago, serves as director.

The Low Energy Heating and Cooling Center will concentrate on research and development of efficient heating and cooling systems. Large-scale and solar-assisted heat pump technologies will be a primary focus. Shawn Xu, associate research professor in civil and environmental engineering, serves as director.

The Water and Wastewater Center intends to work to improve energy efficiency in water and wastewater utilities in small municipalities.

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