Researchers Using $5.3 Million in DoE Funding to Reduce Energy, Water Consumption, and Emissions in Fiber Composite Products and Wallboard Manufacturing

Cyrus Aidun, Devesh Ranjan, and Srinivas Garimella

January 25, 2022

Two teams of researchers from the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering have received Department of Energy funding to work with corporate partners to reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of energy intensive manufacturing processes. 

Principal investigator Professor Cyrus Aidun, along with Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr Chair Devesh Ranjan, have received $3 million dollars in funding from the DoE for their work on advanced multiphase (MP) forming for enhanced efficiency of drying paper, tissue, board, nonwovens and other fiber composite products. The research is being conducted with Sandia National Lab and industry partners Kimberly-Clark and Solenis. In response to receiving the award, Professor Aidun said, "I am pleased that Department of Energy has recognized our research in multiphase forming to be a transformative technology that significantly reduces the need for fossil fuel energy and water consumption in a major manufacturing industry."

This industry is the third largest consumer of energy within the United States. The research team headed by Aidun is working to provide energy savings to the industry by bringing MP forming to large-scale commercial applications. The process of MP forming involves replacing a traditionally water-based carrier fluid with high-density (HD) foam within the manufacturing process of fiber-based materials. The reduction in water allows for an additional 30% reduction in the demand of evaporative drying, resulting in less energy consumption. In comparison to traditional methods of manufacturing, MP forming results in a 25% decrease in CO2 emissions. When fully integrated into a dedicated facility, the decrease in CO2 emissions could potentially reach 50%.  

A large focus of Aidun’s research is on overcoming the barriers that are currently preventing MP forming from being used in commercial applications. Many of the complications stem from HD foam containing significantly different flow characteristics than water. Additional research into its behavior and how to manage it within commercial implementations is required. The focus of that research will be on achieving a deeper understanding of how fibers are suspended within HD foam and how to consistently orient the fibers for creating certain products.

Srinivas Garimella, the Hightower Chair in Engineering and Director of the Sustainable Thermal Systems Laboratory in the Woodruff School, received a $2.3 million grant from the Department of Energy for research on “Advanced Techniques for Energy Input Reduction in Gypsum Wallboard Drying.”

Garimella and the Georgia Tech Research Corporation are working with the largest wallboard manufacturer in the world, Saint-Gobain, to reduce energy, water consumption, and carbon emissions in the manufacture of gypsum board. Gypsum wallboard manufacturing is a $22.5 billion dollar industry, which involves significant energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, consuming 445 kWh of energy per ton of product while producing 80 kg/ton of CO2 emissions. According to Garimella, “This project has significant potential to disrupt an energy-intensive industry and can lead to energy savings of more than 2.1 × 107 GJ annually.” The partnership between Garimella and Saint- Goblin is committed to reimagining the manufacturing process and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

In this three-year collaboration, the team will develop and implement microwave-based calcination and particle size optimization for the slurry to achieve the goals of reducing water and energy consumption in the production of gypsum wallboard. With the funding from this award, Garimella and his team have the potential to increase efficiency and hit their goal of a 50% reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the manufacture of gypsum wallboard.

Combined, the two projects have the potential to reshape resource intensive manufacturing processes and reduce the environmental impact of paper, tissue, board, nonwovens and gypsum board production in Georgia and around the world.

FUNDING: These projects are being funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Office of the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, award numbers DE-EE0009394 and DE-EE0009396.