The University of Utah’s Intermountain Industrial Assessment Center (IIAC) is expanding its scope of helping local businesses save energy. Not only is its team of expert faculty and students advising Utah businesses big and small on how to save energy costs, but it is now analyzing how companies can cut down on pollution.
The IIAC center, which launched in 2016, consists of engineering faculty and students who look at a variety of manufacturing operations, such as the compressed air system and boilers, to find opportunities to reduce costs. The team also examines heating and air conditioning units and production and electrical systems to see if they are functioning efficiently. The U.S. Department of Energy announced this week the IIAC’s funding was renewed for another five years.
The team typically spends a day or two on-site, working with participants to identify cost-effective ways to save electricity, gas, and water. With this consultation, the center can help companies achieve anywhere from 10% to 20% in energy and productivity savings. They provide the company a report outlining areas where the facility can save, and it includes a detailed engineering and economic calculation of potential energy-saving ideas.
But now these expert consultants are also examining how businesses can cut down on harmful emissions, such as oxides of nitrogen that are released in the air during electricity generation and natural gas combustion.
“Energy efficiency is a great investment for companies. It’s something that they can save money doing, but there are also substantial air-quality benefits when investing in clean technologies,” says U chemical engineering assistant professor Kody Powell, who is a co-director of the center. “Energy efficiency and air quality just go together. This will not only benefit companies financially but also greatly benefit our air quality.”
The center is working with U chemical engineering associate professor Kerry E. Kelly, who serves on the Utah Air Quality Policy Board and served eight years on the Utah Air Quality Board, to help guide the team’s recommendations for clean technologies.
The center initially focused its work on industrial and waste/water treatment plants, but thanks to a program partnership with Dominion Energy called StepWise, the team now has an increased focus on renewable natural gas opportunities. The team can also now consult with a greater diversity of businesses in Dominion Energy Utah service territory such as small businesses, commercial offices, or institutional facilities.
“These kinds of facilities are not often high on the radar screen of regulators in terms of emissions,” says Kelly. “So this gives us an opportunity to work with smaller facilities – not just big refineries but the next tier down – to make recommendations on energy efficiency and to save on emissions. That will benefit the state.”
For example, researchers and students at the center might recommend a wastewater treatment facility use methane (through a byproduct of a commonly related process called anaerobic digestion) in lieu of flaring. Or for those businesses that use a boiler for their manufacturing process, the team might suggest boilers that are not only more energy efficient but also emit less oxides of nitrogen.
Employing the center to analyze a business is free and requires just a brief onsite visit. The IIAC takes six weeks to analyze the data from the site visit, talks to participating vendors who work with the company, and produces a report with recommendations, says Powell.
“About 60% of the strategies we recommend to companies get implemented,” he says, “and we’ve seen companies save up to $300,000 annually because of one of our assessments.”
Since the center launched five years ago, it has analyzed and consulted with 70 businesses in Utah, Colorado and Nevada.
Last year the IIAC received the Center of Excellence Award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Centers. The honor is given to the highest-performing center in the country. There are 31 such centers in the U.S.