Introducing Elan!

The FSTC is proud to introduce our newest and youngest (at just 23 years) engineer on the team: Elan Frantz. Elan is a recent graduate from the University of California, at Santa Barbara, where he holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Though Elan may be new to our lab, he’s no stranger to efficiency.

While a student at UCSB, Elan led an intern project that used thermoelectric (TE) devices to capture waste heat from central processing units (CPUs) and to generate power. He successfully built physical models that proved TE devices can be utilized to lower the temperature of the CPU using thermal absorption and by powering a fan. You can learn more about this project here.

Elan and Big Belly

Elan tackled many advanced projects through his department and single-handedly spearheaded a major campus-wide effort to improve the efficiency of the recycling/compost/waste-streams. He also gave the Class of 2012 Commencement Speech at graduation for the UCSB Science and Engineering Department!

Elan commencement speech

Below is an interview Lauren Mills conducted with Elan to celebrate National Engineers Week  (February of 2013).

Lauren Mills: Can you tell me a bit more about some of the projects you were responsible for at UCSB?

Elan Frantz: Well the big one was a waste streamlining effort I called “The Big Belly Project”. When I got to college freshman year we were presented with the challenge to write about improving some aspect of the campus. The first things that popped into my head were, like, solar-powered spaceships, rocket cars…all this stuff…and then, I had this idea to compact trash so that the garbage trucks don’t have to come as often. It turns out someone already does this, it’s a company called Big Belly out of Massachusetts, and they do it very well.

So, I worked over the next 4 years to try to refit the entire UCSB system with these trash bins. And on the day of my graduation, I got funding to do it. Now there are 18 Big Belly waste units on the campus and we are diverting tons of trash every day.

Mills: What bins are included with the units?

Frantz: There is recycling, trash, and one of the first compacting compost programs in the US, well, in the world. You can look at it from a couple of different angles: first of all, since we are compacting things, people aren’t going there as often. What were 14 trips a week for some facilities management people has turned into 2 trips a week. In the face of huge budget cuts, that gives these departments the resources to keep the campus clean, collect the trash that needs to be collected, and maintain the grounds. So it’s been a real blessing for them.

Also, because the bins trap the trash and lock it in, the contents cannot escape to the local ocean areas or even around the campus. Before, we had a big problem with raccoons diving into the trash cans and just tearing everything out. Even seagulls would get into it. As simple as it is, the Big Bellys are a closed system and they don’t let that happen.

Mills: Very cool…so risks of inadvertently polluting the surrounding areas are reduced and no more litter problem!

Frantz: The other cool thing is just the appearance of it. Everything is very clearly labeled and color coded: Yellow is compost, blue is recycling, black is trash.

Mills: So, it looks like from your history at the University you have a clear interest in not just energy efficiency and the efficiency of mechanical systems, but in sustainability and engineering sustainable solutions.

Frantz: Oh, most definitely.

Mills: Switching gears, can you tell us about what you are starting to work on here at the FSTC? Also, maybe what you would like to investigate and research in the future here?

Frantz: Of course. What I didn’t know when I came here, is that, if somebody wanted to make an energy efficient kitchen 25 years ago, they wouldn’t have the resources to do it. So the part I now play in this is the testing of the equipment.

Mills: What is your official title at the FSTC?

Frantz: Research Engineer. So, I try to set up real world kitchen situations in our lab to test the heavy-use efficiency of appliances. When someone is choosing a convection oven, an exhaust hood, a stovetop range, they are going to have a lot of options. I compare those options for them and present to them useful data that will hopefully help them select the most efficient option, with which they can also maintain a functional kitchen.

Elan and Fryer Challenge

Mills: Is this your first time working with ASTM test methods?

Frantz: Yes it is.

Mills: What appliances have you worked with here and applied the ASTM test methods to?

Frantz: Holding cabinets, a wok, a griddle, a fryer, some combis and convection ovens.

Mills: Did any one of them employ any interesting components or technologies that made them more efficient than your average unit?

Frantz: Yes! The wok pan employed some proprietary features that were pretty interesting. A normal wok pan may be only 10% efficient and the new wok pan, with these unique improvements, was tested to be 15% efficient. So it’s improved by 50%. With a 50% efficiency gain you can actually turn your temperature controls down to 2/3 of the original input.

I’ve also tested and reported on a wok range that was designed to reduce water consumption (needed for cooling the equipment) by featuring an air gap between the burner wells and the wok table surface.

Mills: Besides testing and getting familiar with the ASTM test methods, are you working on anything else at the lab?

Frantz: Well, I’m involved with the Green Team.

Mills: Tell me about that.

Frantz: Basically, the waste streams at the FSTC are really efficient. Most of the time there is no reason to throw anything in the waste stream because the majority of things here can be composted or recycled. In addition the appliances we use in house, like our lights and heating, are also efficient. The Green Team looks over all of that.

Mills: Do you have plans for applying some of your past experiences and interests to come up with some new protocols for the Green Team?

Frantz: Totally. Perhaps my first efforts will be looking into miniature ozone-generators to eliminate odors in the compost bins. I do have several ideas that I want to contribute this year and I’m excited to get start.

Mills: Great, well we are really glad to have you join our team at the FSTC and I look forward to future collaborations with you at the lab.


Every day at the FSTC our staff is working towards a more energy efficient and sustainable future. Read our blog and also visit our Facebook page to stay up to date with our growing rebate programs, in-lab testing, and our in-house green business efforts.

We look forward to additional testing on efficient wok ranges and will be providing updates as we collect more data. An appliance test report is available for the water-efficient wok that Elan tested on our website.