DOE Launches Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, Opens Carbon Fiber Plant

The US Department of Energy launched the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), which includes funding from the DOE, and a focus on R&D for future funding opportunities.

The announcement of CEMI was made at the ribbon cutting of the new DOE Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.- a manufacturing plant to reduce the cost of carbon fiber, which is a critical material for efficient lightweight vehicles, next generation wind turbines and a wide array of other consumer and industrial products.

As a part of CEMI’s increased focus on manufacturing research and development, DOE awarded over $23 million in manufacturing research and development projects. And the Department released a $15 million funding opportunity to reduce the manufacturing costs of solar energy technology, including photovoltaics and concentrated solar power. In the coming months, the Energy Department plans to issue a funding opportunity that supports a new manufacturing innovation institute.

Other key elements of CEMI include:

  • Providing additional energy productivity training and technical assistance for manufacturers that build on current efforts like the Industrial Assessment Centers that offer no-cost energy efficiency assessments for manufacturers and the Better Plants Challenge.
  • Leveraging the capabilities of the US National Laboratories to evaluate the US competitive position in manufacturing and prioritizes strategic investments.
  • Hosting a series of regional and national summits to gather input on manufacturing priorities, identify barriers and opportunities for growing clean energy manufacturing competitiveness, and showcase national and regional models that address these priorities.
  • Launching new public-private partnerships focused on improving US clean energy manufacturing competitiveness.

The new Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Tennessee is now open to US manufacturers as a test bed for the development of less expensive, better performing carbon fiber materials and manufacturing processes. In particular, the Energy Department says carbon fiber has tremendous opportunity to boost American competitiveness as the leading manufacturer of fuel-efficient gasoline and electric vehicles. Lightweight carbon-fiber composites could reduce passenger car weight by 50 percent and improve fuel efficiency by about 35 percent without compromising performance or safety. The Energy Department estimates that through the strategic use of carbon fiber, automakers could cut the weight of cars and trucks by up to 750 pounds by 2020.

Currently, carbon fiber materials are more expensive and complicated to manufacture than more traditional materials like steel and aluminum. Supported by a $35 million Energy Department grant, the 42,000-sq-foot Carbon Fiber Technology Facility will help industry and researchers develop better and cheaper processes for manufacturing these materials.

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