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viernes, 9 de junio 2023
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Energy Efficiency for El Carmen de Viboral's Ceramics Plant

By: Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo-Journalist

The heat invested in creating ceramic utensils can be reused, which benefits companies economically and sustainably. A team of students from the energy engineering undergraduate program of Universidad de Antioquia's Eastern Branch is working on this task hand in hand with two local pottery shops in the El Carmen de Viboral.

Juan José Pérez, Víctor Manuel López, Mariana Alzate, Daniel Ricardo Cárdenas, Nicolás Gallego, David Jaraba, Camilo Mejía and Professor Alejandro Jaramillo Arango are part of this project. Photos: Comunicaciones Universidad de Antioquia Seccional Oriente.

Studying the behavior of energy beyond the classroom can lead to finding solutions for everyday issues. The Herencias and Esmaltarte Pottery companies, whose headquarters are in El Carmen de Viboral, have become laboratories for students, professors and researchers of energy engineering to give a social use to the ideas and knowledge discussed in class. 

The detailed observation of the processes in the ovens has been raw material to diagnose how the industries can recover the energy lost in the combustion systems. "What we are seeing is that part of the heat that is invested in the ovens in which the biscuit ware is burned, that is, the molds or shapes of the pieces, can be recovered to be used in the drying process, which is done by hand on shelves on which the pottery rests waiting for the environment to do its thing. This would increase the production capacity of the companies," explained Professor Javier Alejandro Jaramillo Arango, coordinator of the project.

These artisanal ovens operate with natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Although they have worked well for many years, their systems are susceptible to improvement. In the case of the potters of eastern Antioquia, "The ovens are like chambers in which we can raise the internal temperature to cook something - plates, glasses, vases and all utensils - and in which heat is stored for later firing and finishing pottery with four burners and fuel," explained Camilo Mejía, an undergraduate student of energy engineering and a member of the project.

Scientific knowledge, culture and art converge in this project since the pottery tradition of El Carmen de Viboral was declared Intangible Heritage of the Nation in September 2020. Likewise, it constitutes a strategy in which the wisdom of artisans finds in engineering a way to sustainable development with ecological and economic contributions.

"Engineering prepares us to operate in a stable state, but batches change over time. This condition varies in medium-sized companies and the handicraft industry. The materials are transformed. They are trial-and-error processes, and it is beautiful to understand it from a practical point of view," Mariana Alzate, student.

"The process used to take 12 hours, but we came up with this proposal, and the artisans told us that they reduced the process, the firing time of their pottery," said Mariana Alzate, an energy engineering student and member of the project. She celebrates that these experiences help academics understand how the systems work in situ.

On the furnace's internal thermometer, the temperature is observed to rise as time passes. As the temperature increases, the students use heat measuring instruments at specific intervals to evaluate the thermal behavior and collect information at the end of the process.

"All the variables addressed by the project mean the generation of savings, which translates into productivity and profits," Jaramillo Arango noted.

This research allows students to understand better the mechanisms by which the earthenware dries and becomes biscuit ware and the time glazing occurs. Resources can be optimized for all of this.

This project, developed by students from Universidad de Antioquia, shows that the universal law of Antoine Lavoisier, "Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but transformed," can be the first step to generating local and global ecological and economic benefits.

The project was born in April 2022 in the classrooms of the Eastern Branch. It is carried out through a cooperation agreement between the University and the Association of Artisan Pottery Producers (APROLOZA) to develop research and outreach initiatives. The Faculty of Engineering's Academic Outreach Center (CESET) has supported the project. The experience leaves a two-way learning experience for the University in the region.

"The commitment of the work team was very valuable because they had to adapt to our times. Now we are left with the expectation of the scope of the University's contributions to us," said Olimpia Pabón Cardona, director of APROLOZA.

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