Professor Deborah Thurston leads efficient manufacturing efforts

October 1, 2018

Zack Fishman

ISE Professor Deborah Thurston has long researched sustainable practices in manufacturing. Now, she is working to apply research like hers within the industry.

Thurston is on the leadership team of the REMADE Institute, a coalition of universities, laboratories, and companies founded in 2017 that aims to reduce the pollution and energy waste of American manufacturing. Funded by $70 million over five years by the Department of Energy and an equal amount matched by its partners, the REMADE Institute is promoting efforts to apply pre-existing theoretical research and create real improvements in efficiency.

“The whole idea is to help industries use the work that people in academia are developing in research and bring it to the manufacturing plant floor sooner, much sooner,” says Thurston, who notes that academic research often gets trapped in the so-called “Valley of Death,” where new findings often remain unimplemented for years.

“We’re trying to shorten the time between when things are invented or developed by researchers and the time they finally make it into use,” she says.

Thurston is the Node Lead of Design for Reuse & Disassembly, a role in which she provides intellectual leadership and technical expertise to the development of design practices that make products more easily reused, remanufactured, or recycled.

“What we're trying to do is hang onto that embodied energy through design practices that anticipate end-of-product-life activities that don’t waste that embodied energy but instead use it again in a second or third life cycle,” says Thurston.

The REMADE Institute has ambitious goals for its five years of federal funding. It strives to catalyze a 30 percent decrease in raw material consumption, a 30 percent increase in secondary feedstock material use, and a 25 percent improvement in energy use per product throughout the American manufacturing industry, among other objectives. Thurston believes these improvements will bring about lowered costs for both the economy and the environment, and she is pleased to be a part of these changes.

“It's kind of like a dream come true after working in this area for much of my career,” she says. “The idea that so much of our money is wasted, so much energy that’s embodied in products ends up in the landfill — it’s a waste, and we could be using those resources much more effectively doing other things, so it’s important work.”

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