Innovative Design and Manufacturing Laboratory

PI: Dr. Amin Mirkouei


The Innovative Design and Manufacturing Lab (IDeaL) aims to maintain many research opportunities that can positively impact all segments of food-energy-water systems (FEWS). In brief, we have been working and planning to undertake more innovative research in the following Research Thrusts:

Thrust 1. Biofuel Production from Biomass Feedstocks

The overarching goal of this multi-disciplinary Thrust is to advance the existing biomass-to-biofuel conversion process by integrating the new mechanical inventions with growing cyber-based control and optimization initiatives. Biofuel conversion process represents the most substantial portion of the total biofuel cost (over 60%) based on recent techno-economic studies. Further investigation is needed not only in empirical work for specific applications, but for the creation of conceptual cyber-infrastructures to advance the operations and increase the technical growth. To accomplish the goal of this Thrust, we are pursuing two research tasks: 1) Modernizing the physical-based interface of the biofuel conversion process, using programmable logic controllers and developing new upgrading technologies (e.g., physicochemical pathways) 2) Constructing an adaptive cyber-based platform for data-driven decision making, including intelligent control and optimization modules.

Thrust 2. Precision Agriculture and Soil-Plant Health Improvement

The main goal of this Thrust is to promote Idaho crop production sustainability through the use of slow-release fertilizers (e.g., manure-based biochar), advanced cyber-based systems (e.g., data analytics and communication systems), and intelligent mechanical inventions (e.g., remote sensors) for fertigation (injection of chemicals into an irrigation system), which is the major cost-driver in farming. Integrated analysis of agricultural and soil ecosystems is growing with improvements in technologies, standards, and data-driven decision making. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Idaho ranks in the top ten in the nation in nearly 30 of the 168 agriculture commodities. The state 4%) and Austrian winter peas. Idaho grows 70% of the hybrid temperate sweet corn seed produced in the world. For alfalfa, hay, hops, mint, and sugarbeets, Idaho is number two in production for the nation. For fresh prunes and plums, Idaho is number three in production for the nation. Idaho ranks 1st in the nation for production of food sized trout with 46%. Therefore, technology breakthroughs are essential for addressing agricultural challenges, e.g., crop quality and productivity. To accomplish this goal, we aim to construct and empirically verify a self-adaptive cyber-physical fertigation system for real-time sensing, control, and optimization of water-fertilizer use efficiency and crop productivity, using biochar-based slow release soil conditioners.

Thrust 3. Sustainable Manufacturing Systems and Supply Chains

The overarching aim of this Thrust is to bridge the gap between knowledge discovery and technology (e.g., new tools and machines) implementation in manufacturing and improve the performance of the growing manufacturing sector, by meeting often-conflicting sustainability objectives (e.g., economic, environmental, and social) through different sustainability approaches (e.g., life cycle assessment, energy monitoring and analysis, process energy optimization strategies, and social assessment methods). Idaho's aquaculture industry ranks as the 3rd largest food-animal industry in the state and is the nation's largest commercial producer of Rainbow Trout. Also, Idaho ranks 3rd in the nation for milk production. Annual produced waste (both solid and liquid pollutants) from food-animal and aquaculture industry has a negative impact on surface water and ground water that can pose environmental problems. For example, the wastewater discharged from fish hatcheries can contain uneaten fish food, fish feces, nutrients (especially phosphorus), algae, parasites and pathogens, drugs and other chemicals. To address sustainability challenges in Idaho, we aim to conduct life cycle assessment and input-output analysis to find the major pollution sources and find practical solutions to reduce the environmental emissions, such as blended wood-based biochar that has application in water-nutrient recycling at Fish Farms.


Relevant Federal Agencies



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