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May 31, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Materials innovations explored at ORNL

Materials innovations with a transportation flavor were the topics that nearly 100 people from 15 states explored Thursday during an all-day meeting at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The event was the “Southern Advanced Materials Research Exchange,” hosted by the Southern Advanced Materials in Transportation Alliance (SAMTA) and ORNL. SAMTA is an organization coordinated by the Southern Growth Policies Board (SGPB).

Much of the discussion focused on the South’s assets – automotive and aerospace manufacturing and strong materials research programs – and the region’s challenges – commercializing those technologies and developing a workforce to ensure the South competes globally.

As might be expected, Tennessee was well-represented with about one-third of the pre-registered attendees, many from ORNL or the local region. North Carolina had the second highest number of attendees, but registrants came from as far away as California, Michigan and Washington.

The event was divided into three distinct topical segments – carbon fiber and composites, lightweight materials, and suggestions for the path forward.

D.J. Delong of AKSA Carbon Fibers kicked-off the presentations with an overview of carbon fiber and composites. He noted that the needs of the automotive sector are expected to increase demand by a 6x to 10x factor by 2020.

“For every $1 of carbon fiber sold, there is another $1 spent in downstream processing,” Delong said.

Several research leaders from ORNL made presentations during the two technology panels. They included Cliff Eberle (carbon fiber) and Bill Peter (lightweight materials). ORNL’s Tom Rogers served on the wrap-up panel that offered insights on the possible paths forward. They were joined by university speakers from Alabama – Birmingham, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Southern Mississippi as well as private sector executives such as Jayesh Doshi of eSpin Technologies in Chattanooga.

“I’m very pleased with today’s session,” Scott Doron, SAMTA Coordinator, said. “We had a true dialogue between economic development, researchers and the private sector and a strong commitment to continue working together to advance the South.”

In addition to ORNL’s Rogers, the wrap-up panel also included Phil Paradice, Regional Director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA); Steve Justice, Director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace; David Lohr, President of Virginia’s Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing; and Brad Smith, Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Justice reminded the group of the importance of the aerospace industry, noting that it “is the number one export of the United States,” and several southern states are significant players in this industry. He said that “the material technology that you introduce today could be out there in 50 years,” considering that many airplanes are expected to still be flying that long.

Lohr urged the participants to continue “bringing industry, academe and workforce together to bridge the ‘Valley of Death.’”

Rogers said that “success for all of us is going to require a full understanding of the marketplace.” He urged the attendees to avoid the traditional stovepipes because “industry is not necessarily interested in niches, but solutions.”

Paradice observed that “economic development is a team sport,” which requires all sectors to work collaboratively. He added that his focus is to determine the best actions that EDA “can do to help brand the South as a place where companies in these sectors need to be.”

The session concluded with tours of ORNL’s new $35 million Carbon Fiber Technology Facility and the lab’s new Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

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