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The University of Michigan is joining the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) in a manufacturing institute dedicated to improving the efficiency of the chemical industry. The institute is charged with reducing the energy required and the waste generated in making chemical products – from fuels to paper to toothpaste.

“Consumers don’t often think about the importance of the chemical industry and its energy footprint,” said Levi Thompson, the Richard E. Balzhiser Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who leads the effort at U-M. “We use chemicals in most daily activities. Try washing your clothes, dishes or hair without chemicals.”

“The question then becomes how much is consumed in producing chemicals. And it’s 25 percent of all the energy used for manufacturing. We’re going to make it less expensive, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.”

The institute, called the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute, brings together 75 companies, 34 academic institutions, seven national laboratories, two other government laboratories and seven non-governmental organizations. The Department of Energy will provide $70 million over the next five years, with contributions from the partners bringing the total above $140 million. By the end of five years, the AIChE intends to make the institute self-sustaining.

The goal of the manufacturing institute, one of ten Manufacturing USA institutes, is process intensification: combining steps in chemical processing so that a job requires less energy to run and costs less. For example, if two processes can run at close to the same temperature, they can be heated by a single device, saving energy.

“While it’s important to be the best in basic research, that’s not enough to compete and survive and thrive in the global economy. We need to leverage our own discoveries and turn them into products,” said Sridhar Kota, a former advisor to the Obama administration who first proposed the manufacturing innovation institutes, and the Herrick Professor of Engineering at U-M. “These institutes are designed to bridge the gap between basic research and manufacturing by maturing an emerging technology and its manufacturing-readiness.”

Funding for U-M projects could total nearly $13 million: $6.3 million from DoE with matching funds from the University. One of the projects aims to improve the production of hydrogen, an important element for refining oil and fertilizer production. Another will enhance the efficiency of cement manufacturing, which is a big source of carbon emissions.

The U-M team will also be involved in projects to more efficiently turn plants and carbon dioxide into useful chemicals or fuels. These and other initial projects will be reassessed as funding is distributed, and some will move to pilot and commercial applications.

Other co-investigators from U-M include: Mark Barteau, Director of the Energy Institute, the DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research and a professor of chemical engineering; Erdogan Gulari, the Donald L. Katz Collegiate Professor of Chemical Engineering; Suljo Linic, professor of chemical engineering and Class of 1938 Faculty Scholar; Heather Mayes, who will begin at U-M as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 2017; Ralph Yang, the Dwight F. Benton Professor of Chemical Engineering; and Robert Ziff, a professor of chemical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering.

U-M is also part of the Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) manufacturing institute, which aims to develop lightweight metals for more efficient cars, airplanes and other vehicles.

Thompson is also a professor of mechanical engineering and has been a member of the AIChE board since 2014. Kota is also a professor of mechanical engineering.

Creating novel interdisciplinary solutions for global sustainability is a top priority for the U-M College of Engineering's transformational campaign currently underway. Find out more about supporting sustainability efforts in the Victors for Michigan campaign.

About Michigan Engineering: The University of Michigan College of Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the country. Eight academic departments are ranked in the nation's top 10 -- some twice for different programs. Its research budget is one of the largest of any public university. Its faculty and students are making a difference at the frontiers of fields as diverse as nanotechnology, sustainability, healthcare, national security and robotics. They are involved in spacecraft missions across the solar system, and have developed partnerships with automotive industry leaders to transform transportation. Its entrepreneurial culture encourages faculty and students alike to move their innovations beyond the laboratory and into the real world to benefit society. Its alumni base of more than 75,000 spans the globe.