UC Santa Barbara has partnered with a federal coalition within the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a program that aims to increase the efficiency and sustainability of U.S. manufacturing, enhance U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and create innovative products.

Established in 2014 and led by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions (R.E.M.A.D.E.) Institute  is a national consortium of academia and industry associates aiming to find new, cheaper ways to reuse, recycle and manufacture metals, polymers, fibers and electronic waste. The Institute for Energy Efficiency at UCSB will administer the project.

The $140 million initiative is supported by $70 million from the federal government and $70 million matched by consortium partners, including those from academia and industry. The R.E.M.A.D.E. Institute incorporates the contribution of 26 universities, 44 companies, 26 industry trade associations and seven national labs.

By 2027, it hopes to achieve a 50 percent improvement in overall energy efficiency, potentially saving billions of dollars in energy costs. Reducing embodied energy of target materials by 25 percent, improving secondary material processing energy efficiency by 30 percent and increasing the remanufacturing industry size by 100 percent are within the coalition’s five-year goals.

“Extracting raw materials from the ground and refining, processing and shaping them so that they can be used in consumer products requires a lot of energy and transportation. And once those materials are used by us and discarded, we’ll lose energy that will not be recovered, that are bygone forever,” Sangwon Suh,  an industrial ecology professor in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and lead PI of the R.E.M.A.D.E. project at UCSB, said.  

According to Suh, the processing of widely used materials like steel and cement can account for about 20 percent of global energy demand. It can be reduced by reusing, recycling and remanufacturing these materials. / Courtesy of Sangwon Suh

With U.S. manufacturing consuming nearly 25 percent of the nation’s total energy use annually, the development and deployment of cost-effective new technologies will reduce the amount of virgin materials required for product manufacturing, subsequently reducing the amount of energy used and lessening the amount of waste and greenhouse gas emissions produced in materials production.

UCSB will concentrate on determining the ability of materials to recover a portion of the enormous amounts of energy needed to extract the resources through reusing, recycling and remanufacturing. Through data collection, standardization, metrics and tools, the university will measure the performance of cutting-edge technology in improving energy efficiency before it is transferred from academia and research institutes to industry.

According to Suh, because pre-existing databases have not been homogenous with using the same assumptions and system boundaries, UCSB will first focus on harmonizing the technologies and data they are appraising to allow for unbiased estimates of the benefits of recycling, remanufacturing and reusing before they can evaluate the benefits of the R.E.M.A.D.E. project.

“The question is, how can we measure all these great benefits of remanufacturing and reusing and recycling?” Suh said. “In order to really understand the amount of energy reduced by recycling, we need to comprehend how much energy is needed to refine and produce a product. That spans throughout the whole supply chain of products, so we need to understand how this supply chain is structured and figure out the amount of materials energy going into it and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and wastes generated from it.”

Among the benefits to UCSB from this industry-academia collaboration include creating important connections with many industry partners, which can produce job opportunities, including those for students.

“There is a workforce development component [to] this project, which means that even though industry would like to use those technologies [as soon as possible], the workforce is not [yet] large enough to support those kinds of operational technologies,” Suh said. “We need to furnish and train the people in the workforce [first] to enable those technologies in industry settings.”

Although the details of R.E.M.A.D.E. are still being sorted between the U.S. Department of Energy and RIT, Suh is excited to begin UCSB’s undertaking of the ambitious project.

“We want to use this R.E.M.A.D.E. project as a stepping stone to reach out to broader industry partners and enable broader collaboration with them,” Suh said. “I think this is a great project that signals that what we do in academia has to reach out to industry and practice and [can] really bridge the industry practice with what the university has been doing. I’m really looking forward to it, and based on the partnerships that we will establish under this project, I think there will be many more opportunities to come.”

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