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Industrial Efficiency

ORNL is contributing new technologies, materials, software tools, and training to improve the energy efficiency of American industry.

Improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes is an important component of ORNL's energy mission. Over the years Oak Ridge materials researchers have pursued this goal for a variety of industries through the Department of Energy's Industrial Technologies Program (ITP).

R&D 100 Award won by Queen City Forging Co. and ORNL.
R&D 100 Award won by Queen City Forging Co. and ORNL.

ORNL researchers are developing highly energy-efficient industrial processes, materials that help improve energy efficiency, software tools, training for industrial engineers who work for companies of all sizes, technical fixes, and improved procedures.

Hot Projects

A recent notable achievement in ORNL's Industrial Technologies Program, led by Peter Angelini of the Laboratory's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program Office, offers considerable potential to reduce energy use in a variety of industries. In 2004 seven ORNL researchers and their project partners received an R&D 100 Award from R&D magazine—one of 100 top innovations of the year—for developing an Advanced Heating System. "Queen City Forging Company of Cincinnati is testing the Advanced Heating System and has used the process to produce thousands of pounds of material," Angelini says.

The ORNL researchers responsible for this development are led by Craig Blue of ORNL's Metals and Ceramics (M&C) Division. The project partners are the Forging Industry Association of Cleveland; Komtek of Worcester, Massachusetts; Queen City Forging Company of Cincinnati; Boston's Northeastern University; and Infrared Heating Technologies of Oak Ridge.

Queen City Forging Co. is testing a prize-winning process.
Queen City Forging Co. is testing a prize-winning process.—
Courtesy Queen City Forging


The Advanced Heating System uses an optimized combination of radiant and convection heating for processing materials. When used to heat aluminum billets, the system greatly reduces heating time and energy consumption. The process also produces high-performance forgings with significantly improved tensile and fatigue properties, compared with those heated by conventional techniques.

"We found that rapid heating greatly improves the microstructural and mechanical properties of aluminum before it is forged into parts susceptible to fatigue because of high thermal cycles," Blue says. "As a result, less scrap is produced. Because heat treating an aluminum part using both infrared and convection heating takes much less time than processing the part in a conventional convection furnace, our system is three times more energy efficient. The Advanced Heating System also could be used in other thermal processes, including joining and heat treatment, and can be tailored to process steel, titanium, and nickel-based alloys."

Another energy-saving achievement for industry at ORNL has been the development of a high-performance, chromium-tungsten steel by Ron Klueh, Vinod Sikka, Phil Maziasz, Mike Santella, and Suresh Babu. This material could be used in pressure vessels for petrochemical plants. "A lot of these vessels must be heat treated to make them reliable," Angelini says. "Vessels made of the ORNL steel might not need heat treatment, saving considerable energy. As a bonus, the ORNL steel, which transfers heat more efficiently than conventional vessel materials, is 50% stronger, lighter, and easier to handle."

Each year Caterpillar uses 15 million pounds of steel weld wire to manufacture earth-moving equipment. The company wishes to reduce its needs for welding to save energy.

Industrial energy use.
Industrial energy use.

One problem is that some welds do not last very long because of residual stresses and deformation, so additional wire is needed to repair those welds. In an ORNL-Caterpillar project on virtual weld-joint design, Suresh Babu, Andrew Payzant, and a team including Caterpillar researchers developed an integrated material model that predicts performance of welds formed from different alloys. The model's results suggested Caterpillar should use weld wire made of a different steel. Preliminary results indicate that Caterpillar's future weld joints may last 10 times longer than the current ones, possibly reducing its energy use by 25%.

Best Practices

In an era of increasingly tight profit margins, opening lines of communication between industry and government energy experts has boosted some companies' bottom lines. Forward-thinking U.S. industrial manufacturers acutely aware of rising energy prices are seeking assistance from ORNL engineers on how to increase energy efficiency and productivity in their plant operations while decreasing pollutant emissions and production of scrap.

BestPractices, a program of DOE's Industrial Technologies Program that ORNL researchers help execute, enables industry to identify plant-wide opportunities for improving energy savings and process efficiency. Through the implementation of new technologies and systems improvements, companies across the United States are achieving immediate savings, helping to create new jobs and maintain current ones.

American industries benefiting from the services of BestPractices reduced their use of energy in fiscal-year 2003 by 20 trillion to 40 trillion British thermal units (BTUs). These services were provided largely by the Industrial Energy Efficiency Group in ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. The group's leader is Mitchell Olszewski, a mechanical engineer. ORNL first became involved in 1995 when MotorMaster+ was being launched by the Motor Challenge Program. The program's software tool and database enabled U.S. industry to track the whereabouts of existing motors of different powers and decide whether to repair or replace specific motors.

By 2000 the motor program had evolved into BestPractices. "We recognized that the real energy savings in an industrial plant come from improvements in systems of connected components more than in individual components," Olszewski says. "More energy is used on the thermal side than the electrical side, so we began looking at steam and process heat as well as motors, pumps, fans, and compressed air systems.

The ORNL group provides technical assistance to a company team tasked by management to conduct a plant-wide assessment to identify energy efficiency opportunities. DOE pays half the assessment's cost, up to $100,000, for industries the agency has supported since 2000: agriculture, aluminum, chemicals, forest products, glass, metal casting, mining, petroleum, and steel. In the past year ORNL researchers have been allowed to branch out to other energy-intensive industries. "We have done energy assessments in the food processing, cement, and automotive industries," Olszewski says. "We particularly want to work with plants that have high energy bills and that are part of multi-plant corporations. Our goal is to have our successes in improving energy efficiency in an industry multiplied many times."

The ORNL group has developed software tools for industry in process heating units and in pump, steam, fan, compressed air, and chiller systems. "These tools are designed to give plant engineers a quick understanding of whether a large payoff is possible by identifying energy efficiency opportunities," Olszew-ski says. "The plant engineers can determine which systems should be examined in detail. Equipped with this information, they can decide with confidence that a serious opportunity exists to invest in changes that will improve energy efficiency and lower costs."

For example, a plant manager using the pump system assessment tool can determine within a day or two the few pump systems (generally a half dozen or so out of a population of hundreds or thousands) that offer substantial energy-saving opportunities. Investment decisions regarding how to capture the opportunities can then be focused on a limited and manageable number of systems.

To help plant engineers learn how to use the tools, ORNL offers end-user training sessions in pumps, motors, fans, and steam, compressed air, and heating systems. "We give 50 sessions a year and the typical attendance is 30 people per session," says Olszewski. "Each session describes commonly found situations that reduce the performance of the system. We then demonstrate how the ORNL tool helps the user identify the existing energy efficiency opportunities for that system. Each primer tells plant engineers what the tool will do for them and how they can use it." The ORNL group also trains engineers who desire to be qualified specialists in the use of a particular software tool.

In the years ahead, one fact is certain. The rising cost of energy will place a premium on finding an ever-increasing number of ways to maximize the efficiency of America's manufacturing sector. Additional information is available on a web site maintained by DOE:

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