(Irvine, CA) UC Irvine will receive nearly $2.25 million of a $60 million investment by the U.S. Department of Energy to assist small- and medium-sized manufacturers in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and lowering energy costs, while training the next generation of energy-efficiency workers.
UCI is one of 32 universities nationwide selected to become a DOE Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) in this round of funding. The Sustainable Manufacturing Alliance for Research and Training (SMART), housed at UCI’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CALIT2), will operate the center with two satellite centers at CSUN and Cypress College. IACs provide small- and medium-sized manufacturers with assessments and recommendations on energy efficiency, productivity improvement, sustainability and competitiveness as well as measure the impacts of these recommendations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The DOE program helps manufacturers improve productivity, enhance cybersecurity, promote resiliency planning and provide training to entities located in disadvantaged communities. The groundbreaking investment will help remove barriers to decarbonization across the manufacturing sector and advance the Biden administration’s goal of achieving a clean energy economy.
“While large, sophisticated companies like SpaceX dominate the public’s perception of manufacturing in Southern California, it is the manufacturers with fewer than 50 employees that produce most of the innovation, output and employment,” said G.P. Li, project PI and UCI CALIT2 director. “I am proud that UCI has been selected to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers across America lower their energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while remaining globally competitive. This is further acknowledgment of UCI’s commitment to clean energy. By harnessing the talent of our brightest minds, we can take on the energy, environmental and economic challenges of tomorrow.”
The newly announced IACs will pilot an expansion of the program to commercial buildings assessment. As part of the pilot, select IACs will partner with community colleges and technical programs to train diverse students and professionals to conduct energy-efficiency assessments of small- to medium-sized buildings.
“The program’s focus is not only on optimizing productivity and energy efficiency for manufacturing systems, but also for the people and buildings that comprise the whole of a manufacturing system,” said Li, who is also a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
UCI will partner with Cypress College who will lead a regional consortium of community colleges that will provide students advanced training in state-of-the-art energy systems and applications to conduct commercial building assessments and support industry needs in the future.
“The SMART IAC will also address the growing shortage of engineering professionals with applied energy and manufacturing-related skills by training diverse cohorts of engineering students through hands-on participation in these assessments,” said Li.
UCI’s SMART IAC expects to conduct at least 20 assessments of small- and medium-sized manufacturers annually, and recruit at least 10 SMART IAC fellows from diverse backgrounds each year from UCI and CSUN to participate in the comprehensive program and at least five of them to earn the SMART IAC Certificate of Achievement.
The SMART IAC, in partnership with Cypress College and the BEACON program – a newly formed community college consortium that involves 25 companies, will provide bilateral educational opportunities. Community college students will have access to UCI’s certification program at the IAC. UCI students will have access to hands-on training at the proposed regional training center for industrial automation, robotics and mechatronics, according to Jon Caffery, regional director of employer engagement (energy, construction and utilities) at Saddleback College. “This collaboration increases our students’ knowledge, skills and abilities to address urgent regional industry needs for workforce development, economic recovery and growth,” he added.
To date, the IACs, one of DOE’s longest-running programs, have provided nearly 20,000 no-cost assessments for small- and medium-sized manufacturers and more than 147,000 recommendations for improvement measures. Assessments typically identify more than $130,000 in potential annual savings opportunities for every manufacturer assessed, nearly $50,000 of which is implemented during the first year following the assessment.
Read the full list of awarded universities.