Increasing energy efficiency in our biggest industries

University of Waikato researchers are helping New Zealand's biggest companies save millions of dollars by becoming more energy efficient.

The Energy Research Group, led by Professor Peter Kamp, partners with government agencies and companies such as Fonterra, Windsor Engineering and RCR Ltd to identify opportunities for the country's biggest energy users to become more efficient.

Professor Kamp and his team were awarded $2.07 million funding in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's 2013 science investment round for the three-year project.

Together the dairy processing and timber drying industries use about 40% of the primary energy used for industrial process heat in New Zealand. Helping these industry giants become more energy efficient is vital to maintaining or increasing their export competitiveness.

The research project has an aim of saving up to $20 million in energy costs at current levels of production. At Fonterra, for instance, the researchers are looking at the final drying method involved in manufacturing milk powder, a particularly energy-intensive process.

The Energy Research Group's focus is three-fold: tackling the problem theoretically, experimenting in the laboratory and taking testing equipment into factories.

Being industry-focused and targeting a specific issue within a large company allows the research group to not only save that business money, but take the generic principles learned and apply that knowledge to other users. This kind of strategic thinking is a key part of the process to ensure a factory's reliability remains the most important priority.

The Energy Research Group has also developed an extensive training programme for energy managers to help them upskill within the energy efficiency sector.