University News

Renewable Energy Expert to Lead New Federally Funded Satellite Industrial Assessment Center at the University

Ravi Gorthala, Ph.D., will serve as director of the center, which is supported by a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is part of a collaboration with the University of Connecticut. The center will help small and medium-sized regional manufacturers reduce their carbon footprint and improve their productivity, and it will provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.

October 22, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image from outreach program from before the pandemic.
A student oversees a pre-pandemic outreach event that included energy consultants and engineers from United Illuminating and Eversource.

Ravi Gorthala, Ph.D., is passionate about inspiring the next generation of engineers and helping local businesses. A $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will enable him and fellow faculty members to create new learning opportunities for students at the University of New Haven while helping reduce the region’s carbon footprint.

The grant, which is part of an award to the University of Connecticut from the DOE, will enable Dr. Gorthala, who has previously received funding from agencies such as NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the DOE, to collaborate with UConn to start a satellite Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) at the University of New Haven. IACs provide site-specific recommendations to small and medium-sized manufacturers to help them improve productivity, reduce waste, conserve energy, train the workforce of tomorrow, and increase information security.

“We will be working closely with students,” said Dr. Gorthala, chair of the University’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “It will be a great experience, and it’s an exciting opportunity. The energy audits we conduct will be performed with students on-site, and we’ll be doing field visits with students. They’ll be industry ready and work ready.”

“This is a terrific opportunity for our students to engage in important, forward-thinking work, providing significant benefits for small and medium-sized manufacturers that play a critical role in driving innovation,” added Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D., president of the University of New Haven. “I am grateful for Dr. Gorthala’s visionary leadership on this project and for the support of the Department of Energy and our colleagues at the University of Connecticut for creating an initiative that is sure to have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact.”

“Connecticut’s local manufacturers are a pillar of our economy. It is critical that the federal government make investments to assist local manufacturers in adopting new forms of energy, reducing their carbon footprint, and enhancing their operations,” said U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, the House Appropriations Committee Chair. “As chair of the committee that drives these federal investments, I am grateful for the leadership of the University of New Haven as well as the investment of the Department of Energy in making this important program a reality.”

‘This is very strategic’

Dr. Gorthala said that without the support and backing from United Illuminating (Avangrid) and Eversource, this grant would not have been feasible. He also noted the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is supporting this center.

“As one of the largest employers of energy engineers in New England, Eversource is delighted that the Department of Energy has awarded federal funding to UConn and the University of New Haven for their Industrial Assessment Center,” said Eversource Director of Energy Efficiency Ron Araujo. “We look forward to collaborating with the schools on training and engaging with the next generation of energy-efficiency graduates, who will help decarbonize the manufacturing sector and join us in continuing to lead the clean energy economy.”

A mechanical engineering student works on an energy-efficiency project.
A mechanical engineering student works on an energy-efficiency project.

The grant is part of a $60 million nationwide investment intended to increase energy efficiency in manufacturing. It will enable 32 universities in 28 states — the largest cohort yet of university-based IACs — to conduct industrial assessments to help local small and medium-sized manufacturers lower their costs and energy use and provide additional professional development. Each IAC covers a 150-mile area.

“We at United Illuminating, Southern Connecticut Gas, and Connecticut Natural Gas, subsidiaries of Avangrid Inc., are thrilled with the proposed Industrial Assessment Center at the University of Connecticut and the University of New Haven,” said Hammad Chaudhry, senior manager, conservation and load management. “The IAC will help our manufacturing customers identify energy-efficiency and energy-reduction opportunities. Additionally, the IAC will provide real-world experience to future engineers at the universities. We are excited about this partnership and are looking forward to working with the universities.”

Dr. Gorthala said the UMass/Amherst IAC already covers some territory in Connecticut and Rhode Island and that the collaboration between the University of New Haven and UConn would enable both universities to expand their outreach to southern New England by adding southern Connecticut and parts of New York, including Long Island.

“UConn is the main center, and the University of New Haven is the satellite center,” said Dr. Gorthala. “This was very strategic. We are equal partners. We will be working together, and the activities of both centers are similar.”

“Dr. Ravi Gorthala is a leader in improving the energy efficiency of buildings and has assembled a strong team of faculty to contribute toward the IAC that the University of New Haven will operate,” added Ronald Harichandran, Ph.D., PE, vice provost for research and dean of the Tagliatela College of Engineering. “We are thrilled to secure this joint project with the University of Connecticut to advance the energy-efficiency needs of the region.”

‘Students will be trained on the equipment they will be using in the field’

Dr. Gorthala said he and his colleagues on the initiative will work together to host workshops and offer professional development. They also will collaborate to address industry challenges such as monitoring energy use, water use, and conservation; lowering energy costs; and mitigating cybersecurity risks.

“In Connecticut, we have not had a center like this,” said Dr. Gorthala. “This is going to make a big difference. Our center will clearly impact the carbon footprint through energy savings and water conservation — not only in Connecticut but also in southern New England and New York and, possibly, into New Jersey as well.”

Dr. Gorthala will serve as the center director, and his colleague Nadiye Erdil, Ph.D., an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, will serve as assistant director. Their team will include two of the University’s cybersecurity experts: Ibrahim Baggili, Ph.D., founding director of the University’s Connecticut Institute of Technology, and Mohamed Nassar, Ph.D., an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science. Both will help with cybersecurity assessments.

The IAC will offer hands-on opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students each year. Their training will include safety procedures, energy audits, and report writing.

“We will be developing a new curriculum with courses focused on industrial energy audits,” said Dr. Gorthala. “Students will be trained on the equipment they will be using in the field audits. They’ll also be developing their communication skills, including verbal and written communication skills, with supervision from faculty members.”

Image fof students working on a DOE-funded project at Alinabal.
Mechanical engineering students work on a DOE-funded project at Alinabal, a manufacturing company in Milford, Conn.
‘This is very timely … It’s going to be a big deal’

An engineer, researcher, inventor, and educator, Dr. Gorthala has more than 25 years of industry experience. His passion for education was sparked by an after-school science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program he started for middle-school girls called GRITS (Girls, Research, Invention, Technology, Science) back when he was living in North Carolina. He began teaching at the University of New Haven in 2012, making the switch from teaching middle school students to university students.

Committed to fostering opportunities for diversity and inclusion, Dr. Gorthala is dedicated to making these endeavors an integral part of the IAC as the work begins this semester. He will also take part in an orientation and training session for new IAC directors.

Dr. Gorthala is looking forward to his leadership role with the center and to the opportunities he will have to collaborate and share his knowledge. He is also excited about the possibilities his students will have — and the impact their work will have on the region, the manufacturing industry, and the environment. His students have already been receiving such hands-on experience through a current project that is being funded by the DOE.

“I think this is very timely,” said Dr. Gorthala. “Climate change is real. Energy efficiency is number one in reducing the carbon footprint. Before we look into renewable energy resources, we need to reduce energy consumption.

“This is just the beginning,” he continued. “It’s going to be a big deal. I hope we’ll have state and federal officials visiting the center.”