Aggie engineers helping industry save millions

October 4, 2007
| By: Aubrey Bloom

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Energy conservation is a hot topic, and Texas A&M University's Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) are doing their part to educate students on how to successfully apply energy conservation techniques in real-world situations. Texas A&M is one of 26 universities in the United States to run an Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), which is a part of a nationally sponsored program by the US Department of Energy. The IAC, which on average has about 15 Aggie engineering students working for it each year, provides no-cost studies of manufacturing plants within 150 miles of College Station, analyzing a plant's energy, waste and productivity issues. Students go into various businesses and conduct a one-day walkthrough analysis and then prepare a report for the company, making specific recommendations to the plants concerning energy cost reduction, waste cost reduction and productivity enhancing practices the plant can implement. While plants benefit from the possible cost reductions, students who do the analysis benefit from hands-on training and gain valuable industry experience. "Industrial Assessment Centers give student workers conservation-based attitudes and skills," said Dr. Warren Heffington, an associate professor in mechanical engineering and founding director of the IAC. "When they graduate many go to work in conservation. The IAC is a fine teaming and leadership laboratory in an environment closer to the real world than many in academia. "Our students, for example, work for wages not grades. And their schedule is based on a government contract, not directly on their semester beginning and end." Texas A&M's IAC program has been in existence for 21 years and more than 200 engineers have passed through its doors, making it one of the most successful of the 26 university-run programs. "Some really strong Texas Aggie student engineers have worked for the center over the years," Heffington said. "As the backbone of the center they naturally caused the Texas A&M IAC to show up well when it came time to compare us with others around the nation." As a result of the success of Texas A&M's IAC, Malcolm Verdict, who is an associate director of the TEES Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL), was asked to testify before the House Science Subcommittee on Energy and Environment last month. Verdict testified on TEES's behalf about the valuable impact of the IAC program, the current limitations to the program and recommendations to build upon the success of the program to help meet the energy and environmental needs of industrial facilities and others during the 21st century. "This is a great program and it is at the heart and soul of what we do," Verdict said. "It is unique in that students go into the field and do energy efficiency analysis. I can't think of a better program to educate the next generation of energy efficiency experts." The Texas A&M IAC has conducted visits to most of the industries in Bryan and College Station, but the majority of its work has been done in the Houston area. "We are fortunate to be near the Texas Gulf Coast, whose industries use more energy than any corresponding area in the country," Heffington said. "We have recommended conservation projects with savings totaling about $50 million per year and we have data showing that plants have realized about $25 million per year in cost savings."

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