Industries and researchers join to improve manufacturing drying processes

URBANA, Ill. – One of the most energy-intensive stages in manufacturing paper, food, textiles, chemicals, and many other products is drying. Researchers from two colleges at the University of Illinois are working together to find more efficient and environmentally sustainable drying alternatives through a new research center, an effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation through its Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers program.

The new Center for Advanced Research in Drying is a joint effort between the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is led by Jamal Yagoobi from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Hao Feng, a food science researcher in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois, will serve as the Urbana-Champaign campus site director for the center.

“The drying process has a direct effect on product quality, from the nutritional value of food to the durability of paper products and textiles,” says Feng. “Inefficient drying processes also create a significant environmental impact. By working to improve the drying process, we can enable production of products with better quality, speed up the delivery of products, and increase manufacturers’ profit margin so everyone benefits, and we can reduce its adverse effects on the environment.”

Irfan Ahmad, from U of I’s College of Engineering, is co-principal investigator/co-site and innovation director of the center. Ahmad is also executive director at the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and a research faculty member in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

“Innovation is at the heart of CARD to address such challenges as energy conservation, climate change, product safety and quality, using novel technologies such as micro and nanotechnology-based smart sensors and drying nozzles,” says Ahmad. “It also envisages new engineering education programs to nurture innovation in drying as a vital core competency for the next generation workforce.”

As defined by NSF’s I/UCRC program, the center must demonstrate measureable industry collaboration and involvement that accelerates fundamental research. Evidence of industry-defined fundamental research must show that the proposed industry participation extends the center’s capabilities into areas or projects that might not otherwise be researched.

NSF provides a framework for industries, universities, and the government to join together to solve problems that require a multi-disciplinary effort such as this one. Over 30 industry, organization, and government partners have shared their enthusiasm and financial support for the center’s research on drying.

It is the first center in the United States dedicated to developing energy-efficient technologies for drying moist, porous materials, a problem affecting the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers across a wide range of industries. The center is one of three NSF I/UCRC centers led or co-led by University of Illinois researchers.

“Innovative drying technologies are critical to advanced, sustainable manufacturing technologies. Numerous challenges remain to be tackled with tangible academia-industry interaction such as CARD. I am sure CARD will play a leadership role in making a definitive contribution to the national and global effort in this field”, says Arun Majumdar, editor-in-chief of Drying Technology, and emeritus professor of bioresource engineering at McGill University in Canada.

For more information, visit the Center for Advanced Research in Drying.

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