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Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency, Alex Fitzsimmons, blogs from the University of Florida, where DOE-funded researchers are striving to improve the energy productivity of our nation’s industries and buildings.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)  works closely with energy leaders and innovators across Florida to develop state-of-the-art energy technologies that keep American energy reliable, resilient, and affordable. Earlier this week, I visited the University of Florida in Gainesville, where I met with top university officials, the director of Florida’s State Energy Office, and key scientists and researchers to see how these experts are improving Florida’s energy future.

Advancing Building Technologies

During the visit, I was thrilled to see how the University of Florida (UF) is advancing the energy performance of its own buildings and systems through their ambitious Campus Master Plan, which features several LEED-certified buildings. Some of the most critical components of our modern energy system, buildings use almost 40 percent[1] of America’s energy (more than any other sector), 74 percent[2] of its electricity, and an even larger share of peak electricity demand. With the advent of connected sensors, controls, and analytics, we now can optimize building energy performance to best meet the needs of both occupants and the electric grid.

Boosting American Manufacturing

Florida innovators are not only focused on improving the energy performance and productivity of buildings. I also learned more about their efforts to solve industrial energy challenges that affect corporate bottom lines and the global competitiveness of American companies. UF researcher Michele Manuel described a project funded by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office that incorporates a new method for heat-treating steel more efficiently during the manufacturing process. Manuel’s Induction-Coupled Thermomagnetic Processing method intensifies the heat-treating and post-processing steps so less energy is wasted than in conventional open-blast furnace designs.

Manufacturing competitiveness is a top priority for the Trump Administration. At DOE, we see energy competitiveness as key to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness. The heat-treatment of steel alone accounts for over 200 trillion BTUs of energy use each year in the United States. Manuel’s approach, which could reduce energy consumption by up to 96 percent, not only improves the cost-competitiveness of American steelmakers, but saves enormous amounts of energy, improves environmental performance, and even produces steel with better tensile strengths and toughness.

DOE continues to invest in new industrial technologies, materials, and processes that will help bolster American manufacturing. This work to improve steel manufacturing at UF is just one example of a DOE-funded breakthrough that will accelerate the development of emerging product and processing technologies. In May 2020, DOE announced a $67 million funding opportunity for next-generation manufacturing processes that can improve energy efficiency in energy-intensive and energy-dependent industries, including steel manufacturing.

Supporting Grid-Interactive Buildings

But back to buildings. In addition to learning about UF’s work to improve the energy productivity of its campus, I heard from UF researchers who are developing advanced technologies to deliver energy savings to America’s residential and commercial buildings. This vision of optimized building energy performance is the foundation of DOE’s grid-interactive efficient buildings initiative. As part of that initiative, this month Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette announced up to $65 million in funding to develop a national cohort of Connected Communities pilot projects.

The grid-interactive efficient buildings initiative also motivated Prabir Barooah—one of  several top scientists and engineers who joined me at the University—to investigate how artificial intelligence can help buildings use the demand flexibility of their air conditioning, hot-water heater, and electric-vehicle loads to reduce the energy footprint of HVAC systems. His research could help grid operators in Florida and across the country harness the energy-storage capacity of a “virtual battery” of 100,000 air conditioners. One day, these grid operators could send signals to these air conditioning units, altering their energy use to meet demand at any given time with no impact on occupant comfort. This method would reduce constraints on the grid and serve as a more affordable alternative to bringing additional power sources online.

Grid-interactivity was also a key component of a new project recently launched through our Building Technologies Office’s BENEFIT funding opportunity. UF researcher Saeed Moghaddam presented a novel, natural-gas-powered, combined dehumidification and heat-pump system. This technology holds promise as a cost-effective alternative for removing humidity from buildings, enhancing indoor air quality, water, and space heating. This breakthrough in system performance was made possible through a novel absorption cycle developed at UF.

DOE is proud to support the University of Florida and its energy innovators through our public-private partnerships and competitive funding opportunities. As ever, our goal is to harness American ingenuity to benefit American families and businesses. To learn more about these opportunities, visit EERE Exchange, where you can apply to any of EERE’s open funding opportunities.

 

[1] 39% of total energy consumption in the U.S. comes from residential & commercial buildings. Source: EIA Monthly Energy Review, August 2020

[2] Buildings electricity use is 74% of the total electricity use in the U.S. Source: EIA Electric Power Monthly, February 2020