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February 25, 2014 | Tom Ballard

President announces new manufacturing innovation institute focused on composites

We posted an article on Monday announcing two new manufacturing innovation institutes, one based in Michigan and the other in Illinois. Both the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State Community College are involved in the Michigan initiative

In addition to officially announcing these two awards on Tuesday, President Obama also announced a solicitation for a fourth innovation institute in a topical area very central to this region’s interests and capabilities.

Here’s the text of that announcement from The White House news release:

Today, the President announced a new competition, sponsored by the Department of Energy, to provide $70 million to launch a new Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute focused on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which combine strong fibers with tough plastics to cost-effectively manufacture materials that are lighter and stronger than steel. This new competition is the first of the four the President will launch this year, building on his pledge in this year’s State of the Union and hitting the halfway point on his initial goal of creating 15 Manufacturing Innovation Institutes.

While advanced composites are used in selective industries such as aircraft, military vehicles, satellites and luxury cars, these materials remain expensive, require large amounts of energy to manufacture and are difficult to recycle. The Energy Department’s Manufacturing Innovation Institute for advanced composites will be aimed at overcoming these barriers to widespread use by developing low-cost, high-speed, and energy-efficient manufacturing and recycling processes. Through this work, the Institute will focus on lowering the cost of advanced composites by 50 percent, reducing the energy used to make composites by 75 percent and increasing the recyclability of composites to over 95 percent within 10 years.

Advanced composites could help manufacturers deliver clean energy products with better performance and lower costs such as lightweight vehicles with record-breaking fuel economy; lighter and longer wind turbines blades; high pressure tanks for natural gas-fueled cars; and lighter, highly energy-efficient industrial equipment.

For example, advanced composites could reduce passenger car weight by 50 percent and improve fuel efficiency by about 35 percent without compromising performance or safety – helping to save more than $5,000 in fuel over the lifetime of an average car at today’s gasoline prices. In the wind energy industry, doubling the length of a turbine blade can quadruple the amount of electricity generated. Advances in low-cost composite materials will help manufacturers build longer, lighter and stronger blades to capture the maximum levels of wind energy and support a cost-competitive U.S. offshore wind industry. Low-cost advanced composites are also needed to make the storage tanks for vehicles that run on hydrogen and natural gas – helping to give drivers more fuel and transportation options that save money and cut carbon pollution.

The Energy Department seeks proposals from teams of nonprofit organizations, universities, national laboratories and private industry and will make up to $70 million available over five years, subject to congressional appropriations, that must be matched by at least $70 million in non-federal commitments.

For those interested in reading the complete press release from The White House, click here.

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