MnTAP interns find sustainable solutions

The Minnestoa Technical Assistance Program is currently accepting applications for its 2015 internship program.

University alum Calen Papke investigates surface imperfections on a piece of Uponor product at his new workplace. Papke was hired full time at Uponor following his internship with MnTap, a program that pairs interns with local businesses to help reduce energy use and prevent pollution.

Juliet Farmer

University alum Calen Papke investigates surface imperfections on a piece of Uponor product at his new workplace. Papke was hired full time at Uponor following his internship with MnTap, a program that pairs interns with local businesses to help reduce energy use and prevent pollution.

by Allison Kronberg

From minor adjustments — like fixing leaks to save water — to redesigning their production lines, businesses are seeking ways to cut costs by using more environmentally-friendly techniques.

And some University of Minnesota students are helping them through a program called the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, or MnTAP.

MnTAP is a professional outreach and assistance program that helps businesses around the state make improvements toward eliminating pollution, using resources efficiently, and reducing energy use.

The program is currently recruiting students to apply for this year’s internship program before the March 1 application deadline. It has already received almost 40 applications and expects more than 100 by March, said MnTAP intern program administrator Linda Maleitzke.

The program, which began in 1985, allows student interns to develop their own sustainable solutions and work on-site with businesses to help carry them out.

If all the proposals from last year’s interns went into effect, they would conserve enough water for 1,025 Minneapolis residents’ homes, enough solid waste to match the weight of five Metro Transit light rail cars and enough energy to power 352 Minnesota homes, according to a MnTAP report.

“The solutions the interns have come up with can be applied to other businesses across the state,” Maleitzke said.

Fourteen students interned with the program last summer, seven of whom were University Twin-Cities campus students.

Simone Richardson

Bioproducts and biosystems engineering senior Simone Richardson worked with Kerry Group, a food ingredient manufacturer with a branch in Rochester, Minn.

Production processes and equipment cleaning in the plant produces thousands of gallons of wastewater every day.

Richardson worked with the company to help save water by implementing some of her solutions, like fixing water leaks and cleaning out its sewer pit.

“[MnTAP is] a really good program for the company because you get to go in and actually help them make changes and improvements,” she said.

Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson worked at ECO Finishing Company, which manufactures metal plating.

Before Anderson came to the business, they used millions of gallons of water and generated hundreds of thousands of pounds of hazardous waste annually, according to the MnTAP report.

Anderson proposed that the company modify its rinsing system for the metallic plates
to prevent excess water use and waste.

“This experience gave me a chance to use my classroom knowledge in a real-world setting,” he said in the report.

Nikola Trukov

Nikola Trukov worked with General Electric’s Water and Process Technologies division.

Although the company earned the Water Company of the Year award last year, Trukov said he still saw room for improvement.

He studied and measured the company’s process lines to see how water use could be reduced, and recommended that the company use valves to lessen excess water flow and devices to monitor water temperature.

“It was really nice to know that even though I wasn’t their employee, they treated me as one,” Trukov said. “I felt like I was part of the company.”

Calen Papke

After he helped the company make improvements to its waste reduction, Uponor asked Papke to join the staff full time.

“A lot of internships, they kind of give you busy work and give you a pat on the back for it,” he said, “whereas [Uponor] actually gave me very meaningful work and took it very seriously regardless of the intern status.”

Calen said the company has seen tangible results in savings after applying some of his changes.

Daniel Sundberg

Daniel Sundberg worked with Gerdau, a steel manufacturing company in St. Paul.

The production of steel uses a lot of energy, so Sundberg suggested making changes like turning off cooling fans or electric motors when idle. The majority of his proposals are under review.

The experience also had a big impact on his communication skills, Sundberg said.

“I talked with people all around the plant and from various contracting firms, and it just put my engineering knowledge to actual use,” he said.

Boyang Li

Boyang Li worked with the Kraft Foods Group plant in Albany, Minn., during the summer of 2014, helping the company develop strategies to reduce its consumption of gas, electricity and steam. It has since implemented some of Li’s proposals.

“The project is real; it’s not something you can learn in just any place,” Li said. “In school, you can do experiments and mess around and play with things. But in industry, if you want to do some experiments, you have to actually validate your hypothesis.”

His internship has also led to a potential job offer after college, he said.

Neil Peterson

Industrial engineering junior Neil Peterson worked with McLaughlin Gormley King Company, a chemical manufacturer that specializes in insect-control solutions.

In order to avoid contamination during production, the company rinses tanks three times between each task. Though the process has been effective, it was Peterson’s job to see if it could use less water.

Since his internship has ended, the company has utilized many of Peterson’s suggestions, including occasionally only using two rinses or shortening the cycle of the third rinse.

“It was cool to be thinking that the stuff we’re doing now could save them money and also save the environment, too,” he said.