ECU center helps businesses cut costs, improve environment

Improved efficiency can help businesses save money. The East Carolina University Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering is out to show how it can help the environment as well.

Thanks to a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency Pollution Prevention and Source Reduction Assistance programs, CSE3 is conducting audits designed to help companies and businesses save energy. Called the Greening of Food and Beverage Industries in North Carolina program, it is designed to help the environment while also helping businesses cut costs and become more efficient.

Matt Shortway, right, owner and master brewer at Shortway Brewing, talks with the energy audit team, from left, Dr. Kanchan Das, Dr. Jinkun Lee, and engineering student Grace Jacobson at the brewery in Trenton.

“We are serving the region and North Carolina,” said Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam, CSE3 director and associate dean of research for ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology.

Matt Shortway started Shortway Brewing four years ago. As his products gained popularity throughout coastal North Carolina, he expanded operations from a small taproom in Newport to a larger production warehouse in Trenton almost two years ago. After working with CSE3 at his Newport location, he asked the team to visit his Trenton location.

“As a numbers guy, efficiency is definitely something that I want, so I jumped on this opportunity,” Shortway said. “Efficiency affects the bottom line. Any time you can save a little bit and have less waste, whether it be energy or be able to make more product in the same amount space, that’s good for business and good for the environment.”

Abdel-Salam, his team of three students, Dr. Jinkun Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering, and Dr. Kanchan Das, professor in the Department of Technology Systems, toured Shortway’s Trenton facility, examining everything from the brewing process to the breakroom refrigerator.

“We’re looking at anything that consumes power,” said Michael Trapani, a mechanical engineering graduate student from Raleigh.

Kenneth Weddle, a mechanical engineering senior who is also in the accelerated master’s program, has been part of the team for about a year.

“It’s fun, and I get to learn a lot of things,” he said. “I didn’t think that I would like environmental stuff like this, but the more I learned about it, the more I got to like it because it has a lot to do with learning, knowing and understanding industrial processes. It definitely grew on me.”

Armed with a thermal imager, he took readings of a cooler and noticed leaks through the door. He said even small leaks can have big impacts over time.

Engineering students Michael Trapani, left, and Kenneth Weddle look at thermal readings during an energy audit at Shortway Brewing in Trenton.

“We’re helping them save money and be greener. What’s better than helping the environment and saving money?” Weddle said.

He said he would not trade the experience he’s gained through the various operations he’s seen during the site visits.

“I’ve gotten a lot of experience through this EPA project. It’s helped me a lot with my understanding of green manufacturing and leaner manufacturing,” he said. “It’s one thing to read about things and research it, but to actually come on a site visit, there’s nothing better than to experience it and be hands on.”

Grace Jacobson, a junior from Cary majoring in both environmental and industrial engineering, walked through the warehouse doors to a scene she had never seen.

“It’s very interesting. I’ve never been in a brewery before,” she said.

She worked with Lee and Das, taking notes on the brewing process.

“I’m learning about the whole production and manufacturing process,” she said. “This is my first time actually witnessing the whole process — what goes on and what it takes to make a product behind the scenes.”

Jacobson said one part of the operation stood out to her.

“Spillage is a big thing and wasted grain in the milling process,” she said. “There’s always going to be some, but they are doing a fantastic job with having as little waste as possible.”

She said working on energy audits through the grant to CSE3 helps with her career goals.

“I have a big desire to look at production and be a part of the process of manufacturing but doing it in the most environmentally responsible manner,” she said. “If I can help with anyone’s manufacturing process, that’s what I want to do.”

Seven graduate and undergraduate students are involved in the audits, which Abdel-Salam said aligns with ECU’s mission of student success.

Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam, director of the Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering at East Carolina University, takes readings at the entrance to a cooler with engineering student Kenneth Weddle.

“Students are trained to conduct professional energy and lean assessments in different manufacturing facilities,” he said. “They participate in the engineering calculations and generating follow-up documents. They gain real-world experience that will allow them to get better jobs and be successful.”

Shortway Brewing was one of six businesses to receive energy audits as part of the grant. The audits include a pollution prevention team, a lean team that focuses on manufacturing processes and an economic analysis team led by Dr. Nehad Elsawaf in ECU’s Department of Economics.

Mt. Olive Pickle Company worked with CSE3 earlier this year on an audit of energy use in its pasteurization process and systems, which includes the use of steam to heat water.

“As part of our manufacturing process, the pasteurization systems use the majority of our steam and chilled water,” said Larry Beckman, vice president of manufacturing.

The company received its audit report in October. It included seven recommendations that are estimated to save the company about $160,000 annually, Beckman said.

“The team made several good observations and recommendations,” he said. “We have begun implementation of some of their recommendations.”

Beckman said Mt. Olive’s corporate goals are related to sustainability, so working with CSE3 made sense.

“The company works to be a good steward of our resources and also looks for opportunities to reduce operating costs through efficient use of energy,” he said. “… We have worked with them on other studies in the past and appreciate their knowledge, professionalism and partnership.”

For Shortway, brewing beer can be a long process, starting with product development, purchases of ingredients, beer production, the canning process and then shipping. He said he’s already looking ahead about six months so as to not slow distribution to his many clients. The amount of energy his breakroom refrigerator consumes is not high on his priority list, so that’s why he’s happy to work with ECU.

“I’m glad to be able to help develop this partnership,” he said. “They often say that small business owners shouldn’t get stuck working in their business but work on it, and this partnership with ECU to have them come out and work on the business is a tremendous opportunity and one that I’m very pleased to pursue.”