Midwest Industrial Assessment Center receives Department of Energy grant to continue helping manufacturers become more efficient

Sanjeev K. Khanna PortraitFor 15 years, a Mizzou Engineering center has worked with Missouri manufacturers to identify ways to cut down on energy costs. Since then, the Midwest Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) has helped industries save more than $87 million — nearly $28 million in the past four years alone. Now, Director Sanjeev Khanna is equipped to help even more companies identify cost-saving measures. His center is one of 32 in the country selected to receive funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to continue that work.

With roughly $1.75 million in new funding, the Midwest IAC team has several new focus areas, said Khanna, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. He and his team will take a closer look at finding ways to reduce material wastes including water from fabrication processes. They will look into resiliency against disasters in the manufacturing sector. Additionally, the DOE is prioritizing decarbonization efforts and putting focus on issues around diversity, inclusion and equity within the energy sector.

“We are also being asked to start focusing more on manufacturers in disadvantaged communities or counties,” Khanna said. “We were starting to do that already to help the State provide incentives for businesses to stay in Missouri.”

The main mission of the Midwest IAC will be to continue to provide manufacturing companies with free energy assessments. In addition to the cost savings, IAC efforts have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 420 million pounds since Khanna took over the center five years ago. The center works closely with State agencies, non-profits and utility providers in Missouri to mitigate environmental effects.

As part of the assessment process, student interns are trained to recognize a variety of energy issues before visiting a site to identify potential improvements, Khanna said.

“Students spend a whole day there trying to understand the manufacturing process and collect any data that’s needed,” he said. “Before we leave, we discuss with the manufacturers what we have seen in that time and make potential recommendations.”

Recommendations can vary from heating and cooling problems to water usage. At one plant, students discovered the business was being charged for millions of gallons of wastewater that wasn’t actually being wasted. Simply installing a flow meter in the sewage line saved thousands of dollars a month. In another instance, gas furnaces were working overtime to heat a large plant in the wintertime, when smaller radiant heaters were sufficient to keep employees comfortable.

Khanna stressed that the research team is mindful of investments versus cost savings. They avoid making recommendations that won’t pay for themselves within three to five years. And they help companies take advantage of utility rebate offers that could negate initial costs. Companies aren’t obligated to make any changes; however, the majority implement about two-thirds of the recommendations made, he said.

The IAC program doubles as a hands-on educational opportunity for students along with research opportunities for graduate students. They take measurements, analyze data and write reports for the DOE, all for real-world clients. A typical student conducts six to 10 site visits per year. Once students meet certain benchmarks and demonstrate skills in energy efficiency, they receive a DOE certificate, stackable certification that gives them an edge in the job market. Since 2017, 23 students have completed the program.

Interested in receiving a free industrial assessment or joining the center as a student intern? Visit the Midwest IAC website.

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