Industry Market Trends

Five New Research Projects Explore Greener Manufacturing from a Process Perspective

Apr 10, 2013

Credit: gameanna. Credit: gameanna.

As part of last month's ceremony announcing a brand-new Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which we wrote about last week, the Dept. of Energy also revealed five winners of a total of $23.5 million in grant money and investment in innovative manufacturing research projects.

The five new awardees of DOE grants are:

  1. Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Co.
  2. Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.
  3. Novomer Inc., Ithaca, N.Y.
  4. TIAX LLC., Lexington, Mass.
  5. University of Texas-Austin, Austin, Tex.

A closer look at some of the projects reveals some exciting breakthroughs that may have long-lasting effects on the manufacturing industry.

Colorado School of Mines: At this university, lead investigator and Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Professor Emmanuel De Moor and his team are working on a project called "Quenching and Partitioning Process Development to Replace Hot Stamping of High Strength Automotive Steel." The DOE grant, worth $1.1 million, will help the school work on what De Moor called "a major material development in the automotive world."

A group called the Smart Manufacturing Coalition, centered in Austin, Tx., won a DOE grant for trying to put together an integrated platform that will help manufacturers' machines talk to each other. A group called the Smart Manufacturing Coalition, centered in Austin, Tex., won a DOE grant for trying to put together an integrated platform that will help manufacturers' machines talk to each other. Diagram courtesy of Smart Manufacturing Coalition.

"Everyone wants to increase vehicle gas mileage and reduce emissions," De Moor said, "and part of what automotive companies are doing is reducing the amount of material that is used to protect the car. If you do that, you need to have stronger material.

"Currently you re-heat steel to 900 degrees, and then form it into a complex shape you want, and then once it's formed you quench the steel," De Moor continued. "And by this quenching process you change the micro-structure of the steel; in this transition the strength of the steel is increased tremendously.

"Now, if you increase the strength of steel, you decrease its formability. What we want to do is propose new steel grades with high-strength and good formability, so you can reduce the need to re-heat the steel to form it into a shape, so you can do it at high room temperature. We're reducing the re-heating step of the manufacturing process."

The DOE grant will allow De Moor and the team to investigate and apply the processed parameters associated with the quenching and partitioning process, and investigate industrial processing windows, and see what the response would be.

De Moor said that Colorado School of Mines is working with several major partners, including AK Steel, General Motors, Toyota, U.S. Steel, and the Los Alamos National Lab.

Ford Motor Co.: A $7 million grant was awarded for a project called "Rapid Freeform Sheet Metal Forming: Technology Development and System Verification." Assistant U.S. Energy Secretary David Danielson was at the announcement of the grant and spoke of Ford's project, which seeks to create a highly-flexible, energy-efficient, double-sided sheet metal forming tool capable of creating features on both sides of sheet metal.

"The new technology can reduce material scrap by 70 percent; reduce energy consumption by 70 percent through elimination of castings and dies; and reduce production cost by 90 percent through the elimination of customized tooling," Danielson said.

Novomer Inc.: Ithaca, N.Y.-based Novomer will receive $2.5 million for a project entitled "Conversion of Waste CO2 and Shale Gas to High Value Chemicals."

A Novomer spokesman declined to be interviewed for this story, saying the company wasn't yet ready to publicly comment on the grant, but the DOE says that Novomer's project pitch contained the following: "Waste CO2 from industrial sources and ethane derivatives from shale gas can be converted into high-value chemical intermediates (such as acrylic acid) using combustion-assisted solid oxide electrolysis and 99 percent selective catalytic carbonylation chemistry. Preliminary estimates suggest a 20 to 40 percent reduction in both cradle-to-grave energy usage and cost compared to current production technologies."

This is a diagram of TIAX Inc's Bottoming Cycle with Scroll Technology project, one of five recent projects funded by the DOE. A diagram of TIAX LLC's Bottoming Cycle with Scroll Technology project, one of five recent projects funded by the DOE. Credit: TIAX.

TIAX LLC: A Massachusetts-based company, TIAX received $2.5 million to develop what the its calls "Waste Heat-to-Power in Small Scale Industry using Scroll Expander for Organic Rankine Bottoming Cycle."

In the research, TIAX will try to show that medium-grade waste heat can be converted to electric power using a new novel, scaleable scroll expander having an isentropic expansion efficiency of 75 to 80 percent for a broad range of organic Rankine cycle boiler pressures, condensing temperatures, and speeds. Estimates from TIAX suggest the system would generate net income in three years and provide national energy savings of 0.9 TBtu per year for natural gas from coffee roasting applications alone.

Ronald Spangler, the director of Government Business Development for TIAX, said that under the direction of principal investigator John Dieckmann, TIAX has been looking for the past four to five years at scroll expanders as a waste-heat recovery kind of technology, with wide-ranging applications including in the trucking industry.

"We realized a lot of the waste-heat in industrial manufacturing is small-volume, low amounts of heat, and relatively low temperature heat," Spangler said, "and it turns out there's nothing out there now that's well-suited to recover that heat."

"We hadn't thought about the scroll expander as a commercial technology, but we have started to and now with the (DOE grant) we can build a prototype and work with a major company to test it out."

That company is Green Mountain Coffee, a major brand in the Northeast, and TIAX is partnering with them on the organic Rankine cycle low-grade waste-heat recovery system prototype.

"Food processing is an area where there's a lot of low-grade waste heat, and we're going to work with our team building and testing our system in our labs, and then put it into one of their coffee-wasting lines," Spangler said.

It'll be a three-year collaboration between the two companies, and Spangler said the environmental benefits could be huge.

"They'll be emitting less carbon in the atmosphere, but also by recovering the heat they'll be saving money, because they won't be burning gas to heat their hot water," Spangler said. "It'll cut their fuel bill big-time."

UT-Austin and Smart Manufacturing Coalition: The Smart Manufacturing Coalition was formed two years ago and is partnering with University of Texas-Austin on a project called "Industrial Scale Demonstration of Smart Manufacturing Achieving Transformational Energy Productivity Gains."

John Berenden of the Smart Manufacturing Coalition explained further.

"One of the principles within our coalition is we don't want to just build an open technology platform, and hope that people come to use it. We're going to build it with actual manufacturing data from two test-beds," Berenden said. "This will be a higher-level workflow platform. You have your production systems at the plant floor, and you have your systems across the company. Now you'll be able to coalesce data across multiple different business systems and look at workflow as a service."

Berenden said the Coalition and UT-Austin, under the direction of Dr. Thomas Edgar, are planning on testing their work at the General Dymamics plant in Scranton, Pa., and also at a Praxair plant, location to be determined.

"This could be a paradigm shift. If you look at it energy efficiency in manufacturing has quietly become a very big success story over the past few years, and our system hopefully will continue that."