Students Set Out to Cut Energy Waste at Bay Area Plants
Saving energy, one plant at a time
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Blake Boyer continued to scribble down notes as the smell of garlic from the processing plant he was touring started to get to him.

“My eyes are burning,” the 24-year-old SF State student said, above the deafening sound of machinery running in the background.

Boyer and several other students and faculty members from SF State's engineering department proceeded from building to building, observing the motions and measurements of conveyer belts, fans and other types of machinery with an inquisitive eye.

The team is a part of SF State’s Industrial Assessment Center. By applying what they have learned in books and lectures, students gain hands-on experience in the field, while at the same time provide a useful service to manufacturing plants.

The IAC is a government funded program that conducts free on-site energy use assessments to manufacturing plants in the Bay Area. Their services are part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s "Save Energy Now" campaign aimed at educating the public on simple but effective ways to reduce energy use. The team passes on customized energy-saving tips to plant coordinators after each assessment.

“It’s really exciting for us to have this done because we usually have to pay to get an energy assessment,” said Janette Codiga, vice president of the garlic plant the students toured in Gilroy.

The IAC has conducted over 330 industrial assessments and is one of the longest lasting, externally funded projects on campus, said Dr. Ahmad Ganji, the director of SF State’s IAC who is currently on sabbatical.

IACs first appeared on university campuses in 1972, but the one at SF State opened in 1992, with Ganji serving as director since its conception. The center at SF State is one of 26 established in universities throughout the country.

In order to be eligible for IAC services, facilities must have fewer than 500 employees, have an annual utility bill between $100,000 and $2 million and make less than $100 million gross sales per year. They also must not have an in-house energy expert. The IAC assesses every type of manufacturing facility as long as they meet three out of four criteria.

The majority of factories are in the food industry due to the Bay Area locality. Recently, the IAC has assessed a Hershey’s chocolate plant and a paper cup plant.

“[The IAC] is a good opportunity to see what’s out there because we’re always seeing something new,” said Aren Hofland, 28, a senior mechanical engineering student on the IAC staff. “It’s great that you can put your education to use, which is so much more useful.”

After the initial tour, the student and faculty team makes energy and waste-related measurements and observations in the plant. They then analyze their data and put together a detailed analytical engineering report addressing ways to save energy, reduce waste and improve productivity. Companies receive this report approximately two months after the visit, and may request a presentation on the IAC’s findings as well.

While companies are not required to implement changes, 40 to 50 percent do, said Ganji. According to the IAC website, “Recommendations from industrial assessments have averaged about $55,000 in potential annual savings for each manufacturer.” The majority of savings come from making adjustments in lighting, refrigerators, boilers and compressed air.

“What we’re doing is a good short term solution to saving energy,” said Sasha Spoor, 30, a senior mechanical engineering major and IAC staff member. “Our reliance on fuel is ridiculous so any amount saved is important.”

Students working for the IAC get paid anywhere from $8.50 to $13.50 an hour, but they also build connections in the process. According to Ganji, SF State’s engineering department is known in the industry by companies like PG&E to be active in energy efficiency.

“The IAC at SFSU has been very successful,” said Ganji. “We really have not failed in our work and I think most companies are very happy with us.”

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