UIC'S ENERGY 'WASTEBUSTERS'
Chicago-area small businesses could save tens of thousands of dollars under a new program of the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Engineering designed to help companies better manage their energy use.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, UIC's new Industrial Assessment Center offers a free energy-use assessment. Engineering students, working with faculty at UIC's Energy Resources Center and department of Mechanical Engineering, survey factories looking for such things as compressed air leaks, poor lighting designs and other sources of energy waste.
As part of the free assessment, students complete a professional report with recommendations. Annual savings resulting from UIC's recommendations are averaging more than $60,000 per business.
Students selected for the program receive two days of intensive preparation, said center assistant director Michael Chimack.
"We discuss what the program is, what they will get out of it, and how the program works from a facilities standpoint, such as how waste management opportunities are calculated," said Chimack. "When they are in the field, we cross-train the students by type of opportunities at the plant - things like checking the lighting, motors and air compressors."
Graduate student and team leader Christine Walker said although students were a bit nervous on the first assessment, they learned quickly.
"Students who have been on several assignments will walk in and suddenly start taking notes," said Walker. "They immediately start counting light fixtures and evaluate where the compressed air leaks were - they know what to look for."
UIC mechanical engineering student James Jensen said the experience has not only helped him sharpen his technical writing skills, but shown him how his engineering education can be applied to real-life problems.
"It's given me a greater understanding of what mechanical engineering can do for energy conservation," said Jensen.
Chimack said UIC will offer an upper-level engineering course starting this fall which will be geared specifically toward work in the center.
"We will discuss what they can expect to see in the factory or plant, discuss theories for cutting waste, then follow up to judge whether theory and reality match."
Small-to medium-sized businesses eligible for the UIC energy assessment must be located within 150 miles of the Chicago Loop and meet other criteria set by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Businesses that qualify for the center's industrial assessment agree to allow open access to student inspectors and provide plant executives or technical personnel to assist students in their work.
Chimack said the cost in terms of company personnel time averages about $600, but comparable industrial assessments by private consultants cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
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