Manufacturing, Energy, and the Future of New Technology
Robert W. Garland
U.S. Department of Energy
The industrial sector currently accounts for about 38 percent of all U.S. energy consumption, at an annual cost of more than $120 billion.1 Manufacturing processes are amongst the most energy-intensive industrial systems. Energy costs are therefore a major driver for many plants in the United States. In general, manufacturing processes that use heat and force to transform raw materials into durable goods and consumer products and the equipment to carry out these tasks, consume much of the fossil fuel imported by the United States.
By developing and adopting more energy-efficient technologies, U.S. industry can boost its productivity and competitiveness while strengthening national energy security, improving the environment, and reducing emissions linked to global climate change. Toward this end, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) supports technology partnerships aimed at improving industrial energy efficiency. Working with a wide array of state, community, industry, and university partners, this program invests in a diverse portfolio of energy technologies.
Attaining energy independence is a growing concern across the nation. If the United States intends to maintain its current standard of living, the goods we use in the future must be made more efficiently. Energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy will mean a stronger economy, a cleaner environment, and greater energy independence for the United States.
Manufacturing has traditionally been an energy-intensive industry, dominated by fossil fuels. Efficiency enhancements to technologies that are widely used in a broad range of U.S. industrial sectors can have a large impact, even if the improvements are small. Substantial energy and cost savings can be achieved if these enhancements are adopted across entire industries.
About half of the petroleum products and 10 percent of the natural gas consumed by industry are used as feedstock for heat and power. Heat, power, and process heating systems combined offer tremendous savings for many industrial plants. Further, the process of combustion is used in almost every industry, and a better understanding and control of this process can improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions, and enhance fuel flexibility.
The basics behind many manufacturing processes are the motors, steam, and compressed air systems. Applying best practices in these basics can save up to 30 percent of energy used in a plant in a few years. Materials technology is also a key area, and improvements for superior strength and resistance to environmental degradation in high-
temperature industrial environments is important for efficient operations.
Sensors and controls can provide integrated measurement systems for operator-independent control of plant processes. Extending sensor reach and accuracy in harsh environments and improving the integration of processing of sensor data can enable online, automated assessments and adjustment of system parameters.
STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS
Manufacturing firms within the same industry face common technological hurdles to improving efficiency. Many of these hurdles involve basic, energy-intensive processes integral to the industry. Due to the complex technologies involved, meaningful advances in these processes require costly research and development (R&D) efforts that are beyond the reach of many individual firms.
Since 1994, U.S. industries have used DOE’s Industries of the Future strategy to set their own R&D goals and priorities. The bulk of the federal budget goes to providing cost-shared support to selected R&D partnerships—partnerships that pool the resources of industry, academia, and government to accelerate the pace of R&D in meeting industry’s top needs and achieving national goals for energy and the environment.
The ITP brings firms together in a neutral environment, facilitates consensus building, and supports collaborative R&D to address priority needs. By concentrating on high-risk, high-payoff research in pre-competitive areas, U.S. firms find that they can collaborate effectively to accelerate the pace of technology development.
Formal industry partnerships include developing a broad vision of the industry’s future as well as one or more roadmaps reflecting industry consensus on R&D priorities and other activities needed to achieve that vision. The strategy has also generated
Alignment of public-private investment with industry’s R&D priorities;
Dozens of commercially successful technologies;
Better industry access to federal laboratory facilities;
Streamlined contracting processes for industry partners; and
New industry associations to facilitate and administer collaborative R&D.
The project portfolio includes over 1,000 projects in which the Office of Industrial Technology (OIT) has been involved, including more than 140 projects that have reached the commercial market. Products also include publications, software tools, and databases.
COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Despite the fact that U.S. industrial facilities run streamlined, technologically sophisticated operations, they still face tough economic, technological, and environmental challenges. Manufacturing typically operates with low profit margins and is dependent on capital-intensive equipment. This limits the availability of R&D funds. Direct price competition with foreign firms that employ cheap labor or receive heavy government support or dispensations also affects R&D expenditures. However, with the increased complexity and sophistication of products and processes, R&D is critical. Finally, there is growing pressure to restrict emissions and effluents, and this also requires technology advances.
Competitiveness is a critical issue for both small and large companies. In order to be more competitive, these companies must work toward:
Reducing the cost and risk of pre-competitive R&D;
Acquiring a stronger voice in directing R&D;
Staying at the forefront of technology and expanding their technical knowledge base;
Leveraging available funds and information resources;
Protecting proprietary technologies and capabilities;
Gaining access to complementary technical expertise and facilities that can help today, as well as in the future;
Acquiring new patents or licensing agreements; and
Launching new products or spin-off companies.
Collaborative partnerships can help to focus resources on vital, higher-risk research and can help to ensure that the resulting technologies are successfully commercialized, thereby cleaning the air, conserving resources, strengthening our economy, and improving our quality of life.
By focusing on process and energy efficiency, U.S. industry can maximize and leverage their resources to tackle projects that would otherwise be beyond their reach. Once commercialized, the resulting technologies benefit all members of industry by:
Saving energy and materials;
Facilitating cost-effective compliance with environmental regulations;
Increasing productivity and reducing waste;
Enhancing product quality;
Reducing production costs (and creating a ripple effect throughout the U.S. economy); and
Boosting competitiveness in the global marketplace.