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Conserving Energy in Manufacturing

June 14, 2012 – As part of an Obama Administration effort to conserve power use during manufacturing, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded grants worth up to $6.4 million to University of Utah metallurgical engineers for research aimed at making iron, steel and titanium production more energy efficient.

The Department of Energy this week announced grants worth $54 million to 13 projects nationwide, so it is noteworthy that two of them will be run by two professors within the University of Utah’s small Department of Metallurgical Engineering, part of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences:

— Z. Zak Fang will lead a $1.8 million, three-year project to develop a new manufacturing approach to minimize the cost of producing titanium materials and components. Titanium and its alloys are lightweight, and have great potential for replacing steel to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles. Fang hopes his process can reduce cost of titanium tenfold, helping the automotive, aerospace, military equipment and medical implant industries.

The Department of Energy is granting $1.46 million to the University of Utah for this project, with a $370,000 match from the university and Reading Alloys of Ametek, Inc., for a total of $1.8 million. Other collaborators include Ford Motor Co. and the Army Research Laboratory.

— Hong Yong Sohn is principal investigator of an $8.9 million, three-year project that he says aims to “develop an alternative technology for making iron [and steel] that will ultimately replace the blast furnace and coke oven. … The novel [‘flash smelting’] technology to be developed will have energy savings of up to 57 percent compared with the average blast furnace process, with an even greater reduction in environmental emissions, especially carbon dioxide,” a greenhouse gas.

This $8.9 million project is funded with a $7.12 million Department of Energy grant to the American Iron and Steel Institute and $1.78 million in “cost share” funds from participants. Sohn says that, pending negotiations, the University of Utah expects to receive $4 million to $5 million of the total and will pay a $450,000 cost share.

The total monetary benefit to the university is expected to be $1.46 million for Fang’s project and up to $5 million for the campus portion of Sohn’s project, for a total of up to $6.4 million.

“We are grateful for this recognition of our diligent work in manufacturing research,” Fang says.

“We are honored to be part of this important award,” says Sohn.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that the projects announced by his agency “will improve the competitive position of U.S. industry and help manufacturers produce more while saving energy, saving money and protecting our air and water.”