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Research Project Finds Energy, Water Savings in Food Processing Plants

October 25, 2016

Researchers at the University of Idaho, the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) are working together to help Idaho food processing companies reduce their energy and water use, with support from Avista Corp.

Avista awarded a $93,600 grant to the research team for a one-year project to evaluate one or two North Idaho food processing companies’ plants. The project will not only lead to benefits for the company, but also will establish a method for other Avista customers and Northwest food processing companies to analyze and improve their own facilities.

Project leader Richard Christensen, based at CAES — an Idaho Falls-based collaboration among INL, Idaho’s public universities and the University of Wyoming — is an expert in heat transfer; co-leader Karen Humes, a Moscow-based geography professor in the College of Science, studies hydrology and renewable energy; and project collaborator Dennis Keiser is a faculty member in UI Idaho Falls’ technology management program.

“Food processing is a vital industry in our region, and companies’ energy use is a big part of their own bottom line, as well as the total electricity demand in our region,” Humes said. “Anything we can do to assist them in their goals to reduce energy consumption is a win-win situation for consumers, key employers in our region and environmental concerns related to electricity production.”

With mentoring from INL researchers, the UI researchers will create an in-depth model of the plant’s energy and water use. Christensen said they will focus on elements such as heat transfer and fluid flow to identify places the company could introduce new technology or techniques to conserve water and energy — and, in turn, save time and money.

“We’re actually looking at individual components. This project is very sophisticated, and it allows a deep dive into the plant itself to understand where the heat goes, where the electricity goes and how it could be designed more efficiently,” said Tom Wood, UI’s associate director CAES.

The project taps in to expertise across UI’s colleges and locations, and connects to CAES’ Energy-Water Initiative.

"The Avista project is a CAES collaboration between INL, the University of Idaho and regional food industries to join forces to improve energy-water usage," said Michael McKellar, a senior research engineer at INL. "The project brings opportunities for INL to mentor students, collaborate with university faculty, work with regional industries, and aid in providing solutions and technology beneficial to these industries."

The project also helps Avista meet the Idaho Public Utility Commission’s directive for utility companies to support reduced energy consumption by funding research and technology development.

“Avista is thrilled to have such excellent University of Idaho faculty working to tackle problems right here in our own backyard,” said Avista engineer Randy Gnaedinger. “Partnering with the University of Idaho results in a win-win-win outcome. The students and faculty learn by addressing a real-world challenge and identifying a potential solution. Our customers benefit because the research U I is leading will help them save energy and be more efficient for years to come.”

Media contact:
Tara Roberts
University of Idaho Communications

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at