RIT is confronting the global challenges of sustainability through interdisciplinary programs that integrate engineering and science with economics and public policy.
by: William Dube May 2012
Pollution inhibits efforts to improve environmental quality while also imposing significant business costs that constrain economic growth. The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) advances research, development, and outreach that focuses on meeting the three principles of sustainability—people, planet, and profit—while also improving environmental quality and enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of New York state businesses.
"Pollution prevention, commonly known as P2, focuses on the creation of processes and designs that prevent pollution at its source, as opposed to dealing with waste after it has been created," notes Anahita Williamson, the director of NYSP2I. "It also seeks to lower the overall cost associated with industrial processes and future product development."
NYSP2I was founded in 2008 and builds on over a decade of applied research conducted at what is now the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) in remanufacturing, process optimization, sustainable design, and life cycle assessment.
Funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) through the state's Environmental Protection Fund, the institute is a partnership between RIT, Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University at Buffalo, and the 10 New York State Regional Technology Development Centers. It works with its partners, various state business clusters, and individual manufacturers to develop new technical processes that can be used on individual projects and disseminated to the broader community to advance overall P2 goals statewide.
"We hope to serve as a benchmark for the 'best and the brightest' in P2 processes, while also being a model for other states and nations," adds Williamson.
The institute works closely with its partner institutions to conduct research and technical assistance that have a real- world impact for New York state workers, communities, the environment, and the economy.
Over the last two years NYSP2I has worked with over 50 companies throughout the state, conducting environmental assessments of manufacturing operations to identify product and process improvement opportunities. These efforts have resulted in the reduction of nearly 2 million pounds of hazardous waste and materials and over 13 million gallons of water, and have saved over 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of energy. In addition, the potential savings to businesses in New York state could reach $12 million over the next 5 years.
These efforts also enhance the institute's outreach, training, and education programs, allowing NYSP2I to provide the latest information and technical knowledge to New York state industries and the general public.
In part, due to NYSP2I's success, Williamson was honored with the 2012 Environmental Quality Award presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I congratulate Anahita Williamson and NYSP2I for their dedication to securing a cleaner New York," says U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who nominated Williamson for the award.
While encompassing a wide variety of focus areas, NYSP2I's research seeks to develop scalable, cost-effective solutions that reduce waste, hazardous material use, and overall energy consumption in a wide variety of industries. This includes the advancement of lead-free manufacturing technologies, the design of greener batteries, the reduction of toxic chemicals use in dry cleaning, and the development of more sustainable processes for the food and agriculture sector.
Current soldering processes used in printed circuit board assembly can contain significant amounts of lead, which can be toxic in large quantities. In addition, cleanup costs associated with the process greatly increase overall costs to manufacturers. Hence, lead-free soldering has become an important part of the transformation in the assembly of electronics. However, there are several issues associated with the widespread commercialization of the process, including high-temperature processing and high-energy consumption.
NYSP2I recently partnered with RIT's Center for Electronics Manufacturing and Assembly (CEMA) to investigate the use of a unique anisotropic, or directionally enhanced, conductive adhesive for lead-free electronics assembly that could ultimately improve product quality and reduce the environmental footprint of the manufacturing process.
"Anisotropic adhesive, due to its low temperature processing, has significant environmental and performance advantages but is still in the early stages of development and usage in commercial printed circuit board level manufacturing processes," says S. Manian Ramkumar, professor of manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology and director of CEMA. "This project allows for additional testing of the unique ACA material to improve overall performance and enhance additional commercialization and use."
The team, which also included RIT professors Changfeng Ge and K.S.V. Santhanam, investigated material property enhancements by using special additives to improve humidity-aging behavior and enhance long-term performance. They then conducted quality and wear assessments comparing the new adhesive blend to regular formulations.
Initial findings indicate that the new blend was more moisture resistant than previous formulations. This addresses one of the main issues in commercializing anisotropic conductive adhesives. The team is currently conducting additional research on the magnetic properties of the new adhesive formulation, another major factor in circuit board performance.
NYSP2I also partnered with GIS faculty Gabrielle Gaustad and Callie Babbitt to develop more environmentally benign battery recycling processes.
The proliferation of portable consumer electronics such as computers, cellphones, and e-book readers, combined with expected expanded production of hybrid and all-electric vehicles, has placed significant new demands upon manufacturers for low-cost, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly battery recycling processes. Currently, only 20 to 40 percent of consumer batteries are recycled.
"The current mismatch between the relatively short lifetime of lithium-ion-based vehicle batteries and the longer use of the hybrid and all-electric cars themselves creates significant challenges related to reuse and waste management," notes Gaustad.
The three-year project, which has also received funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the National Science Foundation, seeks to develop a comprehensive recycling and remanufacturing plan for lithium-ion technologies while also developing better design parameters to increase the overall sustainability and recyclability of the devices.
It will also work with battery manufacturers and the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium to implement better reuse procedures into current business operations.
"Through this project we hope to better quantify the life-cycle impacts of end-of-life routes for lithium-ion technologies, while also helping to develop enhanced business strategies, which will create greater incentives for reuse," adds Babbitt.
The team, which also includes chemical engineering professor Brian Landi of the Nanopower Research Lab and GIS research faculty Michael Thurston, presented its initial results at the 2011 NY-BEST Technology Conference, sponsored by the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium.
On top of supporting individual research projects, the institute sponsors a number of statewide initiatives including major programs with the garment cleaning and food sectors.
NYSP2I has received support from DEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the New York State Professional Wet Cleaning Program. The effort seeks to minimize chemical use in garment cleaning and reduce the health and environmental impacts of the industry.
The program includes a survey of garment cleaning businesses in New York state and a series of wet cleaning demon-stration sessions. In addition, it provides direct technical assistance to businesses in converting dry cleaning operations to more environmentally friendly professional wet cleaning processes. The reduction in chemical use will also reduce cleanup and regulatory costs to businesses and increase competitiveness within the sector.
"The garment cleaning process traditionally uses a number of environmentally sensitive chemicals, most notably perchloroethylene, or perc," says Kate Winnebeck, Wet Cleaning Program Manager for NYSP2I.
According to the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation and NYSP2I data, there are slightly less than 2,000 garment cleaners in the state, 80 percent of which use perc. These cleaners use more than 125,000 gallons of the chemical annually, resulting in the emission of over 90 metric tons into the atmosphere each year.
"Professional wet cleaning uses water as the cleaning solvent, creating a greener process with no reduction in cleaning quality. It also uses less water and energy than conventional dry cleaning," Winnebeck continues.
In 2010, Winnebeck's team surveyed New York dry cleaners to identify the distribution of alternative solvents and the industry's attitude toward them. She is currently conducting a pilot conversion program, assisting two dry cleaners in converting to wet cleaning. NYSP2I is working with the converted cleaners, along with existing wet cleaners across New York state, to host demonstrations of their wet cleaning systems for other interested cleaners.
NYSP2I also works with numerous federal and state agencies and local businesses to promote job creation and enhanced environmental quality in the New York state food sector. This includes membership in the Western New York Food and Agriculture Industry program and the Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative as well as work on a number of individual research projects.
"The food and agricultural industry has been a traditional strength in Western New York and we are focused on assisting them in implementing economic and environmentally friendly technologies that can help increase competitiveness," Williamson says.
The Food and Agriculture Industry program, sponsored by the federal government's Economy, Energy & Environment (E3) initiative, is a pilot effort that seeks to enhance the competitiveness, energy efficiency, and overall sustainability of the western New York food and agriculture sector. Through the program, NYSP2I is developing a series of technical assistance and training initiatives, designed to improve sustainability and productivity in the sector.
In addition, NYSP2I plays a central role in the Food Processing Cluster Initiative, a jobs accelerator program at RIT, which focuses on assisting regional food processing companies in improving competitiveness, creating jobs, and developing the local workforce. Through the program, the institute works with cluster firms to implement technical improvements and sustainable manufacturing process technologies that reduce operating costs and minimize environmental impacts. The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor, and the Small Business Administration.
NYSP2I is also working, through its Waste to Energy Initiative, to identify potential opportunities for bio-based fuel production, to both reduce waste generated by the food sector and create an additional revenue stream for businesses. Advances made through the program are then woven into the institute's technical assistance efforts. This includes research designed to improve the conversion of food processing waste into methane-rich bio-gas and a partnership with Monroe County, N.Y., to assist in the creation of a centralized biodiesel production facility using waste oil and grease from public facilities.