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DOE sponsors plastic, carbon fiber research

As part of the Obama Administration's blueprint for an American economy built to last, the Energy Department (DOE; Washington, DC) has announced investments that support American leadership and global competiveness in manufacturing, including some plastics-related research.

As part of the Obama Administration's blueprint for an American economy built to last, the Energy Department (DOE; Washington, DC) has announced investments that support American leadership and global competiveness in manufacturing, including some plastics-related research.

The DOE awarded more than $54 million—leveraging approximately an additional $17 million in cost share from the private sector—for 13 projects across the country to advance transformational technologies and materials that can help American manufacturers "dramatically increase the energy efficiency of their operations and reduce costs."

Projects selected for awards of particular interest to the plastics sector include research into a new continuous manufacturing process to make high molecular weight, high thermal conductivity polyethylene fibers and sheets to replace metals and ceramics parts in heat transfer equipment. Also, because polyethylene's density is 35% less than aluminum, the new materials developed as part of this project could generate fuel savings in vehicle applications. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, MA), will carry out the research with a DOE award valued at $1 million, with cost-share of $29,350.

The Dow Chemical Company (Midland, MI) will be sponsored to the tune of $9 million develop a lower cost carbon fiber production process that uses polyolefin in place of conventional polyacrylonitrile as the feedstock. Low-cost carbon fiber has widespread application in automobiles, wind turbines, and various other industrial applications. Potentially this novel process could reduce costs significantly. Collaborators include Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN) and Ford Motor Company, and the partners will contribute $4,500,432.

More for metal
Materials that compete with plastics also received strong support from the DOE. The University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT) will receive $1,460,285 to develop a new method for low-cost production of titanium alloy components. that could reduce the materials needed by ten-fold in aircraft and vehicle manufacturing. This technology combines a lower temperature powder metallurgy process with minimal post-processing steps to build parts with titanium's high strength-to-weight ratio. Collaborators include Army Research Laboratory, Reading Alloys (Robesonia, PA) / Ametek (Berwyn, PA), and Ford Motor Company, with the partners sharing $370,000 of the cost.

General Motors (Warren, MI), meanwhile, will receive $2,672,124 to develop an integrated super-vacuum die casting process using a new magnesium alloy to achieve a 50% energy savings compared to the multi-piece, multi-step, stamping and joining process currently used to manufacture car doors. By substituting magnesium for steel inner panels, car doors could weigh 60% less, resulting in significant fuel economy improvements and carbon emission savings. GM's partners are Meridian Lightweight Technologies (Strathroy, ON) and The Ohio State University. The cost-share is $668,031. -[email protected]

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