Center for advanced research in drying technology planned

By Susanne Retka Schill | May 30, 2013

The National Science Foundation has awarded a planning grant to Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to support the creation of the Center for Advanced Research in Drying, a public-private partnership in which leading U.S. companies will propose critical industry problems for study. This is the first center in the United States dedicated to developing energy-efficient technologies for drying moist, porous materials.

“Improving the energy efficiency of distillers grains drying is within the scope of the center,” said project director, Jamal Yagoobi. “We are also definitely interested in the dehydration of ethanol.” The selection of projects, he added, will be determined by the center’s member companies.

WPI will host a planning meeting on the college campus in Worcester, Mass., on Aug. 13-14 with interested scientists and industry representatives to discuss potential research projects.

CARD will be jointly operated by the two universities and led by WPI. Yagoobi, the director and principal investigator, is chair of WPI's Department of Mechanical Engineering and an internationally known expert on drying and electrohydrodynamics, the study of the dynamics of electrically charged fluids. Hao Feng, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, will be the Illinois site director for CARD.

CARD will invite participation and sponsorship from corporations and associations in industries that include paper, forestry, agriculture, food, chemicals, textiles and biopharmaceuticals. Drying, which is one of the most energy-intensive processes in manufacturing, typically accounts for a significant portion of all the energy used by these industries. By developing new technologies and processes, CARD will seek to significantly reduce the energy required to dry materials and lower the carbon footprint for this important industrial sector.

"Ultimately, research breakthroughs in this area will strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers," Yagoobi said. "In addition to energy efficiency and sustainability, the development of new drying technologies and processes for moist, porous materials will improve product quality, process efficiency, corporate profitability and global competitiveness."

"CARD will be a highly collaborative center focused primarily on applied research," noted Feng. "Members will submit and vote on the problems that we study. We look forward to working with corporate sponsors, strategic partners, national laboratories and industry associations to achieve a range of transformative breakthroughs in drying processes.”

The complexity of this challenge will require a multidisciplinary research effort, including mechanical engineering, combustion, food and agriculture, mathematics, electro-mechanical systems and other disciplines. WPI and the University of Illinois bring all of these research strengths to the center, the organizers say, as well as highly specialized laboratory facilities, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students studying these fields.