MnTAP helps businesses save money

The program finds ways to reduce the cost and usage of water and energy.

Kali Dingman

In 2011, businesses in Minnesota saved more than $3 million by implementing solutions designed to reduce water use, waste and energy costs with the help of an outreach program from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program  helps state businesses by developing and implementing industry-tailored solutions.

Since its inception in 1984, the program has aimed to prevent pollution at the source, to maximize efficient use of resources and to reduce energy use and costs — all in efforts to improve public health and the environment.

Engineers and interns visit the sites of manufacturing companies, like food processing plants and laboratories, where they assess how the companies can save energy and water waste, which could lead to saving money.

They have also helped many hospitals, said Krysta Larson, the program’s assistant director.

Larson said “green teams” look for ways the company can become more energy efficient while also maintaining costs.

The intern program involves college students from across the country visiting the sites, finding and analyzing problems and recommending energy efficiency and pollution prevention solutions. The students receive real world experience while also making money, said A.J. Van den Berghe, a health science engineer and 2011 University graduate who runs the intern program.

Engineering senior Paul Henriksen worked as an intern last summer. He found ways to use green materials in manufacturing and said he liked being in a real world setting.

“It gives you a lot of real world experience,” he said. “I was in a sink or swim situation.”

Henriksen had a job lined up soon after the internship.

At one site, engineers discovered many labs at a 3M manufacturing site had excess exhaust and wasted energy. The intern recommended the company install on and off switches on fume hoods, decommission hoods when not in use and install variable air volume systems.

Many of the companies saw a reduction of more than 5 million pounds of waste and 13.8 million gallons of water, according to information from the program. Some companies have even been able to hire new employees and increase production because of the savings.

In 2011, the program assisted nearly 230 companies across Minnesota.

“Oftentimes, people working in facilities want to do a good job [with saving money and reducing waste], but sometimes the knowledge just isn’t there,” Van den Berghe said.

MnTAP is a nonregulatory project and therefore can remain unbiased. The outreach can maintain a level of scientific credibility because it can speak openly about science and doesn’t have to endorse specific products or resources, Van den Berghe said.

The program also reports many of its findings to the state because it receives funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and special project grants.

“Our goal is to identify ways to further [the] environmental effort with cost savings,” Van den Berghe said.