OR Carbon Fiber Consortium up to 40 members and growing

The next meeting of the members-only Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium is set for April 11 and 12 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

With nearly 40 members ranging from small companies to international corporations, the group provides an opportunity for private industry, government agencies and educational institutions to work together to accelerate the development, demonstration and commercial adoption of new carbon fiber and composite materials and processing techniques into many different industry applications. Sectors include automotive, aerospace, wind and alternative energy, oil and off-shore drilling, construction and infrastructure.

Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director of Industrial and Economic Development Partnerships, says that he expects as many as 80 attendees from local, regional, national and international members. Each entity that joins the consortium is allowed to send two representatives to the semi-annual meetings.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Rogers, who led the creation of the consortium, said that a major goal of the effort is to help members build alliances with ORNL and among themselves.

“We want to form two or three key partnerships with different consortium members in the first year,” he said.

Rogers added that the driver for creating the consortium was the $35 million ORNL Carbon Fiber Technology Facility which includes a pilot plant capable of producing up to 25 tons per year of new carbon fiber materials from several different precursors.

“The building is completed,” he said. “Equipment starts coming this spring. We expect that the plant will be commissioned by September and be operational by January (2013).”

Rogers outlined three missions for the new facility. The first is to “put low-cost carbon fiber in the hands of composites manufacturers to see if they can make new composites,” he said. “ORNL also wants to work with several key partners to develop new precursor materials for new types of low cost carbon fiber. And, finally, we want to use the facility to train our workforce.”

ORNL is partnering with Roane State Community College (RSCC) on several of its workforce initiatives that have been or will soon be profiled by teknovation.biz. These include the Advanced Composites Employment (ACE) Accelerator, Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC), and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Engineering (STEM) Consortium.

“We expect to hire a majority of the 20 initial employees to run the pilot plant from the AMTEC program,” Rogers said. “We believe this is a key component as we build a regional cluster in low-cost carbon composites.”

He said the consortium benefits ORNL by hearing about market direction and challenges from small and large companies.

Members from the region include Composite Applications Group (Oak Ridge), eSpin Technologies (Chattanooga), MCLinc (Oak Ridge), ToHo Tenax America (Rockwood) and UT-Battelle, LLC (Oak Ridge). Sixteen other states are represented with the most being from Michigan.

Barry Stephenson, MCLinc’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said that his firm was excited about being a charter member “to help accelerate development of the carbon fiber industry. MCLinc’s support includes a number of investigative analytical services important to materials characterization and optimization of chemical processes. We believe this Consortium has the opportunity to establish itself as the center for innovation in the carbon fiber industry and consider our participation an investment in economic development for the region.”

Rogers thanked Innovation Valley, Inc., for serving as the consortium’s administrative entity, and Jesse Smith, IVI’s Director of Technology, for his active support of the effort.

Those interested in joining the consortium can find more information at http://www.cfcomposites.org/membership_benefits.shtml. The cost is $5,000 for small companies and universities and $10,000 for all others.

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