Smart Drying

When you open a new bag of potato chips, you’re probably not thinking about the energy used on the journey from field potato to bagged chip. But like any manufacturing process that requires drying/baking to form a final product, lots of energy is used, and a good portion is wasted, along the way.

WPI’s expertise in efficient drying was recently bolstered with a $4.5 million Department of Energy award (includes Massachusetts Clean Energy Center contributions) to support innovative advanced manufacturing research and development with a special focus on energy efficiency in drying of mainly food and forest products. With this funding, WPI will act as project lead and expand “smart drying” work with colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn., to develop cutting-edge, energy-saving drying technologies.

“People don’t realize how much energy is consumed inefficiently in these industry sectors and how much that negatively impacts the environment and global warming,” says project lead Jamal Yagoobi, department head, mechanical engineering. “Our goal is to develop novel energy-efficient drying technologies for food, pulp, paper, and other energy-intensive manufacturing industries.”

The largest project task is to develop state-of-the-art test beds to increase product quality of various food and forest products while decreasing the energy required to dry them. The innovative research could have large-scale future impact in the chemical industry as well, he says, while also being on the leading edge of developing the next generation drying process and work force.

Yagoobi notes this research includes the specific challenge of building multidrying mechanisms and adapting them to work in sync, research to which graduate and undergraduate students will contribute. The three-year project will yield test beds at WPI and in Illinois that will eventually be available for industry use.

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