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National composites innovation hub slated for Knoxville, TennesseeNational composites innovation hub slated for Knoxville, Tennessee

A consortium of 122 companies, non-profit organizations, universities and research laboratories is partnering with the Department of Energy to create a $250 million-plus manufacturing innovation institute focused on US leadership in next-generation composite materials, such as carbon fiber composites.

PlasticsToday Staff

January 12, 2015

3 Min Read
National composites innovation hub slated for Knoxville, Tennessee

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, led by the University of Tennessee, was announced by President Obama last week in what is the latest in a series of partnerships aimed at boosting advanced manufacturing and fostering American innovation. The institute will receive $70 million in federal funds and more than $180 million in non-federal funds

A key objective of the new institute is to bring the cost of advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites down the cost curve to enable their use for a broader range of products including lightweight vehicles with enhanced fuel economy; lighter and longer wind turbine blades; high pressure tanks for natural gas-fueled cars; and lighter, more efficient industrial equipment.

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 potentially reduce the weight of a passenger car by 50 percent and improve its fuel efficiency by roughly 35 percent without compromising performance or safety.

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation will work to develop lower-cost, higher-speed, and more efficient manufacturing and recycling processes for advanced composites. It will focus 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.

The Institute has assembled a world-class team of organizations from across the industry, including leading manufacturers, material suppliers and software developers, government and academia, with both broad and deep experience in all aspects of the advanced composite product development process from design and prototyping to manufacturing at commercial scale. The new institute pairs leading carbon fiber producers and suppliers - like Materials Innovation Technologies (Fletcher, NC), Harper International (Buffalo, NY), and Strongwell (Bristol, Virginia) - with key end users like TPI Composites (Scottsdale, AZ) for wind turbines and Ford for automobiles.

The new hub will also unite these manufacturers with top-flight research universities, such as the University of Tennessee with its pioneering 3D printed carbon fiber research, and the University of Kentucky with the largest U.S. open-access carbon-fiber chemistry laboratory.

Consortium participants total 57 companies including BASF, Boeing, Celanese International, Cytec Engineered Materials, Dassault Systemes America, Dow Chemical, DowAksa, DuPont, Evonik Corporation; Faurecia US Holdings, Honda R&D Americas, Huntsman Polyurethanes, Milacron Plastics Technologies, Momentive, Owens Corning, PolyOne, PPG Industries, Sabic Innovative Plastics US; Toray Composites (America), and Volkswagen. Additional consortia members include 3M, Braskem America, Chomarat North America, Eaton, Johnson Controls, Plasan Carbon Composites, PlastiComp, Quickstep Composites, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, and United Technologies Research Center.

The new manufacturing innovation institute, the fifth institute to be awarded of the eight institute competitions launched, builds on the early successes of the first manufacturing innovation institute, America Makes in Youngstown, OH. America Makes is focused on reducing the cost of 3D printing, connecting small businesses with new opportunities, and training workers to master these sophisticated technologies. Only in its third year of operations, the institute has research underway that will help accelerate the speed of 3D printing in metals by a factor of ten, is partnering to provide over 1,000 schools with access to 3D printers, and has launched new workforce training programs that have trained over 7,000 workers in the fundamentals of 3D printing.

In addition to launching new products and filing new patents from the research underway, the Youngstown-based institute is serving as a magnet for investment in the region. Last November, GE announced a $32 million investment in a new 3D printing research facility nearby, citing the advantages of locating near America Makes.

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