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WVU receives DOE award to conduct assessments for small and medium-sized enterprises

Photo of Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan

Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan

Everyone looks for ways to do more by using less and businesses are no exception, especially when it comes to things like energy and water use.

A 2015 report by the International Energy Agency noted that small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, consume more than 13 percent of total global energy demand, and that cost-effective energy efficiency measures could shave off as much as 30 percent of their consumption. Thanks to a more than $1.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers at West Virginia University will assess regional SMEs to find ways to be more efficient, productive and sustainable. The assessments will focus on waste reduction, opportunities for smart manufacturing and potential enhancements to cyber security in addition to energy efficiency and water conservation.

The Industrial Assessment Center, housed in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU, will expects to conduct 85 assessments for SMEs and other institutions. Bhaskaran Gopalakrishnan, professor of industrial and management systems engineering and director of the IAC, expects participating businesses to save at least five percent of energy and water use per facility.

Joining Gopalakrishnan on the project are Ashish Nimbarte, associate professor and associate director of the IAC, Ken Currie, chair of industrial and management systems engineering, and 50 undergraduate and graduate students.

Energy data for various manufacturing and enterprise support energy systems such as motors, process heat, compressed air, steam, HVAC and lighting will be collected by using diagnostic instruments, Gopalakrishnan said.

Data related to water and waste water flows in various equipment and the corresponding energy use, blower controls, biological treatment methods that utilize aerobic and anaerobic digesters and chlorine and ultraviolet disinfection will be collected using a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system.

“We also anticipate that the participating SMEs will reduce productivity losses through the adoption of smart and advanced manufacturing techniques and increase revenues by mitigating cyber security threats,” Nimbarte said. “For the cyber security assessments, data and information will be collected as it relates to the network configuration, data storage and electronic repositories, access nodes and privileges.” The Cyber Security Evaluation Tool, provided by Idaho National Laboratory, will be used for this purpose.

For the smart manufacturing assessment, data and information will be collected regarding sensor communication and network configuration, mode and type of data transfer between operating machines and design stations, existing data storage and retrieval capabilities and the degree of automation practiced.

According to U.S. Census Bureau Data from 2012, SMEs account for 99 percent of all firms in the U.S. and 48.4 percent of total employment, making them hugely important for economic growth, innovation and diversity. The new award, which runs through 2021, will allow these organizations to take advantage of these cost-saving services.

“The IAC will provide extensive training for undergraduate and graduate engineering students in industrial processes, energy assessment procedures and energy management systems,” said Gopalakrishnan. “This will enable students to gain real-world experience and knowledge in these important focus areas.”

The IAC at WVU is one of 28 centers around the country, funded by the DOE, to provide no-cost energy assessments to SMEs. The team performs detailed process analyses to generate specific recommendations with estimated costs, performance and payback times. Within 60 days, the plant receives a confidential report detailing the analysis, findings and recommendations.

Since opening in 1993, the WVU IAC has conducted 527 assessments and recommended nearly 6,000 measures that could save businesses $89 million if implemented.

This is the latest in a series of recent grants received by the IAC that focus on energy consumption. In June, Nimbarte and Gopalakrishnan received a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program to help rural businesses and farm owners reduce energy consumption and increase profit margins. Additional support will be provided by Industries of the Future – West Virginia and the West Virginia Division of Energy.



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