57 companies, including BASF, Boeing and Ford, have joined the Department of Energy’s new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites. A consortium of companies, nonprofits and universities led by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville are investing more than $250 million to launch the Institute, focused on cutting-edge research on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which combine strong fibers with tough plastics that are lighter and stronger than steel.
The Institute will work on lowering the overall manufacturing costs 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 the next decade.
Bringing these materials down the cost curve can enable their use for a broader range of products, including lightweight vehicles with record-breaking fuel economy; lighter and longer wind turbine blades; high pressure tanks for natural gas-fueled cars; and lighter, more efficient industrial equipment.
Advanced composites are important for progressing clean energy generation and improving vehicle efficiency nationwide, DOE says. In the wind energy industry, advances in low-cost composite materials will help manufacturers build longer, lighter and stronger blades to create more energy. By doubling the length of a turbine blade these materials can help quadruple the amount of electricity generated. In automotive applications, advanced composites could reduce the weight of a passenger car by 50 percent and improve its fuel efficiency by roughly 35 percent without compromising performance or safety—helping to save more than $5,000 in fuel costs over the car’s lifetime.
The Institute will also work to develop lower-cost, higher-speed and more efficient manufacturing and recycling processes for advanced composites. Boeing has been working on developing improved recycling methods for carbon fiber from manufacturing waste and end-of-life products since 2012.
In September, Cisco, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and Jackson Family Wines announced commitments to deploy onsite solar energy and improve energy efficiency as part of an Obama Administration call to action. In total, 50 companies, states, communities and multifamily housing leaders from across the country announced commitments representing more than 35 megawatts of solar deployed—enough energy to power thousands of homes—as well as energy efficiency investments that will lower energy bills for more than 400 million square feet of buildings.