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ODU Prof Explores Greening of Supply Chain Management Industry

With energy costs rising, there has been renewed effort - and a pledge of federal research dollars - to support investments in "green" energy research and technology.

But a little-known secret about alternative energy is that producing it sometimes isn't all that, well, green.

Erika Marsillac, assistant professor of information technology and decision sciences in Old Dominion University's College of Business and Public Administration, has made green supply chain management her area of expertise. And she wants to demonstrate that it does, indeed, make business sense, as well as environmental sense.

"The goal is trying to improve the environmental footprint of making, moving and providing products and services," Marsillac said, "things such as looking at more centralized locations for manufacturing and distribution, building energy-efficient systems and monitoring how materials are used in ways that produce less of an environmental impact."

Photovoltaic (PV) or solar energy presents a unique challenge, Marsillac said. The energy is renewable and its generation doesn't emit waste - but the solar cells themselves are constructed through an energy-intensive process, using some materials that are nonrenewable and nonrecyclable, and which create waste byproducts. Marsillac's research aims to green that green energy production.

Marsillac, who came to ODU from the University of Toledo in 2010, is also excited about the research she can do involving the multimodal supply chains that exist in Hampton Roads - highways, railroads and ports - geared to making those supply chains more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

"Toledo is also a port city (on Lake Erie), with the same intersection of the port and the rail and the road," she said. She hopes her expertise in supply chain management will contribute to and complement the valuable work already being done at ODU by researchers like Ling Li, professor and E.V. Williams Research Fellow of operations and supply chain management; Dean Chatfield, an assistant professor who works on supply chain modeling; and Wayne Talley, professor and eminent scholar of economics, who leads ODU's Maritime Institute.

Marsillac will be one of several environmental sustainability and business experts who will speak at ODU's ECOnference April 10 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The one-day symposium will address fossil fuel conservation and new energy technology efforts as applied to the military, maritime sector, government contractors, engineering firms and wind energy industries, all of which are closely tied to the future of Hampton Roads.

Marsillac will speak about the supply chain for the PV energy industry, which hasn't been well examined because it is relatively new. Like many other renewable energy products, the photovoltaic supply chain (PVSC) is driven by government policy and heavily dependent on subsidies, things that make it an odd fit for traditional supply chain models. Marsillac said the importance of the study of PVSC is in helping convince decision makers that "focusing on green issues is not just good for the environment, but also good for business."

She's eager to collaborate with researchers in other ODU colleges, and for that, Marsillac has a built-in advantage. Her husband, Sylvain Marsillac, is an associate professor in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, and his expertise happens to be in PV energy.

Outside of campus, Marsillac also sees many opportunities to collaborate, with the U.S. Navy, Norfolk Southern, Stihl and Newport News Shipbuilding - entities that can see a significant cost savings by using more efficient manufacturing and transportation methods.

"We have such a unique position here in Hampton Roads. It's like working in computers and being in Silicon Valley," Marsillac said.

This article was posted on: March 29, 2012

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