The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded funding to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to operate an Industrial Assessment Center, which offers free evaluations to manufacturers and wastewater treatment plants to help them reduce waste, save energy and reduce carbon emissions.
The Industrial Assessment Center at UWM, one of 32 nationwide and the only one in Wisconsin, also trains the next generation of energy-engineering professionals, because the assessments are carried out by UWM students.
UWM has operated the Department of Energy-supported center for most of the last 28 years. Because of UWM’s long history of IAC operation, DOE officials recommended UWM as a site for Vice President Kamala Harris’ May 2021 visit to promote the American Jobs Plan in Wisconsin.
The Department of Energy has committed $60 million over the next five years to support the Industrial Assessment Centers. A key strategic goal of the new funding is helping companies to reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
In addition to recommending strategies related to energy, the centers will broaden their focus to include enhancing cybersecurity and smart manufacturing, promoting resiliency planning and increasing the number of businesses served in underrepresented communities.
“We are aiming to expand diversity in the companies we serve – more businesses owned by minorities and females,” said Ryo Amano, director of UWM’s Industrial Assessment Center and a professor of mechanical engineering. “But also to increase diversity in the students working in the center itself.”
UWM’s center has evaluated more than 600 facilities and has saved those businesses roughly 20% of their energy bills. Strategies range from investing in green technologies like solar cells to converting waste sources to energy sources. For example, students have recommended that metal manufacturers harness the tremendous amount of heat waste they produce and that cheese producers use food waste as a novel energy source.
A group of between 10 and 20 students conduct the months-long assessments of 20 companies each year, although the pandemic has limited that number for the last year.
On average, companies implement around 40% of the Industrial Assessment Center’s recommendations, and break even on their investments in two years.
Companies also benefit from a partnership among UWM’s Industrial Assessment Center, state government and the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program, which is funded by the state’s investor-owned utilities. The program provides resources and financial incentives to help state residents and businesses implement energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects.
Manufacturers and plants with fewer than 500 employees and energy bills between $100,000 and $3.5 million are eligible for Industrial Assessment Center’s services.