Statewide industries reaping energy savings through TTU efforts

With a monthly natural gas bill averaging $350,000 a month, a Memphis paper mill recently opened its doors to Tennessee Tech University mechanical engineering professor Glenn Cunningham and several experts in energy savings and came away with almost a half a million dollars' worth of annual money saving ideas.

KTG USA, which manufactures toilet and facial tissue under the White Cloud name for all Wal-Mart stores across the country, is just one of the growing number of companies in the past year taking advantage of TTU's leadership in the state's Industries of the Future effort.

"Through a series of workshops across the state and providing targeted assessments of different systems, we are trying to help those companies in Tennessee that are motivated to implement energy saving ideas so they can stay more competitive," said Cunningham, who directs TTU's involvement in IOF through the Center for Manufacturing Research.

The Industries of the Future program develops partnerships with the core energy-intensive industry sectors to improve energy efficiency, environmental performance, and productivity. Cunningham's group is focusing on delivering workshops on steam systems, chillers and cooling towers, compressed air systems, process heating and pumping systems. Manufacturers such as KTG that use steam systems, most of which are fueled by gas, for a number of daily operations functions. When gas prices are relatively high, it is imperative for manufacturers to lower cost by finding ways to reduce energy consumption.

KTG's capital engineering manager Mike Findley says one of the first changes KTG is making is to try and recover more condensate return, which translates into recovering more hot water from the steam boilers and reusing it instead of dumping it into the sewer system. Reusing more of the hot water saves energy because less water has to be heated.

"We've already moved several suggested changes to our active projects list based on the recommendations we were given," said Findley, whose company produces more than 5 million cases of tissue each year and is Memphis Gas, Light and Water's second largest customer.

Findley estimates about an 8 percent savings in KTG's annual energy budget.
"Glenn and his team took the time each day to ask us about energy savings projects that we had tried that turned out to be ineffective for us, the ones that just didn't deliver results like we thought they would," said Findley. "Because they took the time to talk to us, they delivered a report that gave us fresh ideas."

Administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development's Energy Division, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, IOF efforts filter down into communities through workshops across the state. Six workshops across the state in Nashville, Memphis, Maryville, Cookeville and Chattanooga have given hundreds of representatives from manufacturing companies training on how to optimize energy use. Companies such as KTG who host the workshops receive targeted assessments. In March, Denso Manufacturing will host a workshop in Maryville, Tenn., and will receive a compressed air assessment.

As director of ECD's Industries of the Future program, Brian Hensley says Tennessee companies, universities and individual researchers are now in the national spotlight thanks to their involvement in initiatives to save energy, and that Tennessee Tech is a prime example of how universities can help state industries stay competitive.

Closer to home, Cunningham has been involved in the same type of assessments for Upper Cumberland manufacturers, including Fleetguard and Masterbrand Cabinets of Crossville. The assessment team recommended about $300,000 in annual energy savings to the cabinet makers and about $200,000 worth at Fleetguard.