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Tuesday, February 26th, 2008 - 11:29 am

Energy Solutions

Using energy more efficiently and reliably

Energy solutions

Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center advances region by seeking to solve energy problems

By MARY FOX
Mary Fox is a freelance writer, journalist and frequent contributor to Purdue Calumet INSIGHT

On campus, graduate engineering student Konstantina Sotiroglou-Maginas tests coal for determining properties of gas during the coke conversion process.A 38 percent savings on an electric bill is enviable. A 48 percent savings is something that most people would not even venture to dream. However, through the efforts of the Purdue University Calumet Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center (EERC), those savings have become a reality.

Through wireless control and communication equipment and an in-house-developed advanced control system installed in the Purdue Calumet parking garage, 38 percent of the cost of lighting the garage has been saved during the winter, and 48 percent has been saved during the summer months. The savings were achieved through the Wireless Energy Monitoring Control and Optimization project that the Purdue Calumet EERC is conducting with United States Department of Energy funding.

EERC Director Robert Kramer is confident that the research will help others reap significant savings. “It’s conceivable,” he said, “that for commercial operations, a 30 to 50 percent reduction in energy costs is do-able.”

Finding energy problem solutions

Kramer considers working for solutions to the energy problems the world faces essential. “If we don’t deal with energy issues for the future,” he said, “the consequences are going to be dire.”

Kramer, a former chief scientist for NiSource Energy Technologies, knows how energy costs affect business, industry, and economic development. He explained that Purdue Calumet’s Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center is targeted at helping employers, organizations and private citizens “get the biggest value for their investment in energy.”

With energy costs at a point in which the price of heating a data center, for instance, may be more than the cost of computers in that center, conservation methods are of utmost importance.

As Kramer emphasizes the importance of dealing with energy matters, he considers the needs of northwest Indiana, as well as nations such as China and India, whose energy dependence is rapidly increasing. “It’s really a crucial issue,” he said. “If we don’t have energy, things shut down.”

He added that “by enhancing energy efficiency and reliability, we help increase the security of energy sources. Some of the work we’re doing in reliability is targeted directly at enhancing energy security. If you figure the growth in China and India, where are they going to get this energy?”

The research and other efforts of the 4-year-old Purdue Calumet energy center are focused on the smooth transmission and efficient use of energy. “What we’re trying to do is help be part of the solution for the future energy supply and at the same time enhance economic development and the attractiveness of northwest Indiana,” Kramer said.

Partnering with industry

The EERC is partnering with such entities as ArcelorMittal, whose Indiana Harbor plant is the largest steelmaking complex in North America, and whose Burns Harbor plant, Mittal Steel USA, is capable of producing 4.7 million tons of raw steel annually.

“The processes involved are energy-intensive and integrated; as such, efficiency and reliability are essential to achieving and maintaining a reduced environmental impact, reduced carbon footprint and cost control,” said Eugene Arnold, an ArcelorMittal engineering project manager who has a focus on environment and energy. “It is a very natural fit to be involved with the efforts of the Purdue (Calumet) Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center.”

Such engagement is a strategic objective of Purdue Calumet, which is intent on investing its intellectual capital to address challenges facing northwest Indiana. Purdue Calumet’s 10 centers and institutes each contribute to the community. That the steel industry and Purdue Calumet would join together through the Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center makes sense. “Energy is obvious a major economic factor of Northwest Indiana,” Chancellor Howard Cohen said.

Faculty researchers, students involved

In partnering with local industries, Purdue Calumet contributes faculty-applied research and expertise along with an eager, yet relatively inexpensive work force of engineering and other students to contribute to the economic development of the region. Through the EERC, students participate in research projects and energy audits of businesses. Courses in energy efficiency and methods teach students how to enhance energy efficiency. The Program for Energy Education trains students Kramer hopes will be the next energy engineers.

“We’re training engineers who have a background in energy efficiency,” Kramer said.

Developing a respected reputation

Having hosted five conferences in three years, the EERC is fast becoming a respected source of energy knowledge for the general public and professionals. Members of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers are among those who have attended programs the center has hosted.

Not only have people come from around the country to learn about the center’s projects, but Kramer also has spoken to groups from China, Japan, Russia and Europe.

In the relationship with ArcelorMittal, the steel corporation is funding research through a grant for what is called the Highly Varying Load Coordination study. Through the study, the EERC is determining the value of coordinating the operation of large industrial loads, such as arc furnaces and rolling mills, so as to reduce transients on the electric transmission system and improve electric system reliability.

Education partnering with industry

ArcelorMittal also has engaged Purdue Calumet Mechanical Engineering Professor Chenn Zhou to do computational fluid dynamics modeling for a number of the company’s processes. Ethan Rogers of the Purdue Technical Assistance Program is aiding ArcelorMittal in developing Energy On-Boarding Training for new employees. Explaining the importance of higher education partnering with industry, Purdue Calumet’s Cohen said, “It’s the academic work that allows you to put the ideas into practical use.”

ArcelorMittal is just one of a growing number of entities awarding grants to the Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center. The Department of Energy has provided more than $1.8 million in funding. The Center for Coal Technology Research and the Illinois Coal Research Center have provided $250,000 and $40,000, respectively, in grants.

“Receiving grants or funding from the Department of Energy contributes to the reputation of our campus,” Cohen said.

From coal and garbage to energy

Those looking to the EERC for answers to energy problems will find a variety of solutions under consideration. One would-be solution for reducing the cost of energy in steel manufacturing is that of developing ways to use Indiana coal in the coke production process. Although eight million tons of coal is used to make coke for the northwest Indiana steel industry, none of that coal comes from Indiana.

Researching the transformation of common garbage into electricity, heat, fertilizer and potable water has Kramer’s attention.“We’re developing ways to meet the quality requirement of coke for use in the blast furnace by using a blend of coal from Indiana with conventional metallurgical coals, as well as providing five new product value streams from the process, including liquid transportation fuels, hydrogen and fertilizer,” Kramer said.

Another process Purdue Calumet’s energy center is researching in conjunction with Purdue West Lafayette colleagues is the generation of hydrogen from water through the use of an alloy of aluminum and gallium. Since the hydrogen would be produced as needed from water, storing the hydrogen at high pressures would not be required. The hydrogen, then, could be used for power. “Basically, you could fuel your car with water and aluminum,” Kramer explained.

Another of the 14 projects the EERC is researching is the transformation of common garbage into energy. The Purdue Calumet center is researching the development of a process to produce electricity from a fuel cell or reciprocating engine fueled with hydrogen produced from food or other waste. The carbon dioxide formed during the process would be converted into a saleable chemical product.

Conserving energy not only preserves a resource but has another environmental impact. “By increasing energy efficiency,” Kramer said, “we reduce emissions that contribute to global warming and the need for foreign energy sources.”

Given, arguably, that determining more efficient and reliable uses of energy has never been more important; saying that Purdue Calumet’s Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center is on a mission might be an understatement.