Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has received a $4 million award from the Department of Energy and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to support innovative advanced manufacturing research and development with a special focus on energy efficiency in industrial drying.
WPI will act as project lead and expand its “smart drying” work with colleagues at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to develop cutting-edge, energy-saving drying technologies, mainly in the food and forestry product industries.
This research is part of WPI’s work as the lead institution on the Center for Advanced Research in Drying (CARD), a research center focused on industrial drying that also includes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (co-site). WPI announced its lead role with CARD in 2016.
Project lead Jamal Yagoobi, the head of WPI’s mechanical engineering department and director of CARD, said 1.2 percent of the United States’ total energy is consumed in the drying process.
“That’s a lot of energy,” he said. “People don’t realize how much energy is consumed inefficiently in these industry sectors and how much that negatively impacts the environment and global warming. Our goal is to develop novel energy-efficient drying technologies for food, pulp and paper, and other energy intensive manufacturing industries.”
The largest project task is to develop state-of-the-art test beds to increase product quality of various food and forest products while decreasing the energy required to dry them. The innovative research could have large-scale future impact in the chemical industry as well, Yagoobi says, while also furthering the development of the next generation drying process and workforce.
Yagoobi notes this research includes the specific challenge of building multidrying mechanisms—essentially “smart dryers”— and adapting them to work in sync, research to which both graduate and undergraduate students will contribute. The three-year project will yield test beds at WPI and in Illinois that will eventually be available for industry use.
The bulk of the funding—$3.5 million—is part of approximately $187 million awarded by the Department of Energy to support innovative advanced manufacturing research and development. Of the $187 million, $10 million was allocated—including WPI’s—to conduct novel research on industrial drying technologies to increase energy efficiency and product quality. Yagoobi noted that Oak Ridge National Laboratory is also serving in an advisory role on the WPI project.
The remainder of WPI’s funding—$450,000 over three years—came from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.
U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, (D-Mass.), an advocate of the project, in past years has urged the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to help fund energy efficiency research.
“Smart investments in energy efficiency research like this are exactly how America can solve the climate crisis,” said Congressman McGovern. “When I wrote to the appropriations committee last year, I told them that the cutting-edge ‘smart drying’ work happening at WPI is a tremendous opportunity to create innovative manufacturing processes that reduce energy consumption and lower emissions. Through our advocacy, we were able to help secure a $10 million investment, and I’m thrilled that much of this groundbreaking work will be going on right here in Worcester.”