NSF Funds Efforts to Establish Center Aimed at Making Industrial Drying More Efficient and Sustainable

The agency awards a planning grant to WPI and University of Illinois to help establish the Center for Advanced Research in Drying; WPI is the lead institution

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a planning grant to Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to support the creation of the Center for Advanced Research in Drying (CARD), a public-private partnership in which leading U.S. companies will propose critical industry problems for study. This is the first center in the United States dedicated to developing energy-efficient technologies for drying moist, porous materials, a problem affecting the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers across a wide range of industries.

CARD will be jointly operated by the two universities and led by WPI under the direction of Jamal Yagoobi, professor and chair of WPI's Department of Mechanical Engineering and an internationally known expert on drying and electrohydrodynamics, the study of the dynamics of electrically charged fluids. Hao Feng, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, will be the Illinois site director for CARD.

CARD will invite participation and sponsorship from corporations and associations in industries that include paper, forestry, agriculture, food, chemicals, textiles, and biopharmaceuticals. Drying, which is one of the most energy-intensive processes in manufacturing, typically accounts for a significant portion of all the energy used by these industries. By developing new technologies and processes, CARD will seek to significantly reduce the energy required to dry materials and lower the carbon footprint for this important industrial sector.

"Ultimately, research breakthroughs in this area will strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers," said Yagoobi, who will also serve as CARD's lead principal investigator. "In addition to energy efficiency and sustainability, the development of new drying technologies and processes for moist, porous materials will improve product quality, process efficiency, corporate profitability, and global competitiveness."

"CARD will be a highly collaborative center focused primarily on applied research," noted Feng. "Members will submit and vote on the problems that we study. We look forward to working with corporate sponsors, strategic partners, national laboratories, and industry associations to achieve a range of transformative breakthroughs in drying processes."

The complexity of this challenge will require a multidisciplinary research effort that draws on strengths in a broad range of disciplines, including engineering and food and agricultural sciences. WPI and the University of Illinois bring all of these research strengths to the center, as well as highly specialized laboratory facilities, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students studying these fields.

The planning grant was funded through the NSF's Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) program. I/UCRCs were developed to encourage collaboration between industry and academia in the development of novel processes and methods to solve grand challenges confronting the United States. WPI is the lead institution on one existing I/UCRC (the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling); Illinois is the lead on one such center (the Center for Agricultural, Biomedical, and Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology) and the co-lead on two others (the Power Systems Engineering Research Center and the Center for Laser and Plasma for Advanced Manufacturing).

With funds from the NSF planning grant, WPI will host a planning meeting on the WPI campus on Aug. 13-14, 2013, to discuss potential research projects and other research-related activities of CARD. Interested scientists and industry representatives are invited to join representatives from the NSF, the leadership of CARD, and research faculty from WPI and Illinois.

For more information about CARD and the August planning meeting, contact any of the following CARD leaders:

Jamal Yagoobi, Principal Investigator and Project Director
jyagoobi@wpi.edu, 508-831-5759

Cosme Furlong, Co-Director
cfurlong@wpi.edu , 508-831-5126

Hao Feng, University of Illinois Site Director
haofeng@illinois.edu, 217-244-2571

Irfan Ahmad, Co-Principal Investigator and Innovation Director
isahmad@illinois.edu, 217-333-2015

About the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has long ranked among the nation's most distinguished teaching and research institutions. Its diverse, world-class programs reflect the mission of a land-grant university. The largest public university in Illinois, the U of I campus was chartered by the state in 1867 as the Illinois Industrial University and opened its doors to students in 1868.