Internship: Energy and Stormwater Improvement for Agriculture
E&TIM masters student Pritham Aravind spent his summer working as an engineering intern for the Spices and Vegetable Ingredients division of Olam International. His internship gave him an opportunity to not only work with improving utility use but also work on improving their stormwater management.
CEE: Tell us about the work you did this summer.
I worked on a couple of projects for Olam International, an agriculture company based out of Singapore that has operations all over the world and processes products all over the spectrum, like vegetable ingredients, rice, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. I was based out of Gilroy, California, at an onion and garlic processing facility.
One project I worked on was figuring out how to revamp their utility usage to make it more energy-efficient and cost-efficient.
While the company had come up with two potential solutions to improve the utility usage, they didn’t have a clear project plan along with the numbers or the facts together to actually prove which of their potential solutions would work, so I did all the due diligence to calculate the costs and energy usage involved and to develop a clear project plan for each possible solution.
Another project was stormwater management for the facility.
Two streams bound the facility on either side with much of the stormwater flowing into those streams. They had been having a lot of issues with not just pollutants, but also product running off with the stormwater into the streams.
It was actually a very extensive project—usually stormwater management is just collecting water and reusing it, but for this you had to also factor in all the lost product, as well as the legal fees of not complying with the stormwater permits, so there was a lot of economic value in getting a clear stormwater management plan.
In addition to evaluating the potential cost and time for the potential solutions I developed, I had to look at environment permitting for both of the projects I worked on.
California is extremely strict in regard to air pollution, so if you’re looking to replace your utilities you have to look at how much you’re emitting and what sort of permit you have to get for that, which can vary a lot based on what equipment you’re using.
CEE: Were there any CEE classes that helped to prepare you for this internship?
While I was working I was actually thinking to myself that I had totally done a lot of the work in my classes.
Civil Systems Investment, Planning and Pricing, taught by John Matsumura last fall, prepared me for the economic-based analysis in my work. Probability and Statistics, taught by Professor Irving Oppenheim, was also very helpful because I worked with a lot of data and there was a lot of economic math involved.
I had sat in on four or five classes of Water Resource System Engineering, taught by Dr. Jared Cohon, and even though I had only attended a few sessions, I found that very useful for the stormwater project I worked on. I definitely plan on taking this course next spring.
CEE: What skills did you pick up or develop through this internship?
I had some previous experience with energy-related calculations and engineering, but I think I sharpened those skills a lot by having the chance to actually apply what I had learned in class.
I also sharpened my ability to track down the right data.
When you have a problem and a blank sheet of paper, collecting the right data takes up to 70 percent of the time involved. I think I became much better at determining what the best datasets are for any problem at hand, which helped my work become more efficient.
CEE: Was there anything you found particularly surprising or unexpected about your internship?
I was an intern and interns usually just expect to get a project that isn’t of utmost importance to the business unit, but the projects I got were fairly important.
For the utility-usage project, all I was given was a problem and a hard deadline, and I had to figure out the rest on my own. For both projects I basically had to build the research from scratch, develop a final product plan that showed the costs up front and the savings over time, and present them to upper management.
I plan on keeping in touch with Olam to check on the status of the projects and help them in any way possible. It was very cool that they gave me that much responsibility, considering that the projects were worth about $3.5 million.