Oak Ridge National Laboratory opens carbon fiber technical center

The U.S. Department of Energy opens the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the center will work on developing low-cost carbon fiber for automotive and other applications.

The U.S. Department of Energy on March 26 launched the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), a new initiative focused on growing American manufacturing of clean energy products and boosting U.S. competitiveness through major improvements in manufacturing energy productivity. The announcement was made at the ribbon cutting of the Department’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a new advanced manufacturing facility to reduce the cost of carbon fiber.

The initiative includes private sector partnerships, new funding from the Department, and enhanced analysis of the clean energy manufacturing supply chain that will guide the Department’s future funding decisions.

“We are at a critical moment in the history of energy in our nation. Over just the last seven years, global investment in the clean energy sector has grown nearly five­fold to over $260 billion and these markets will grow into the trillions of dollars in the years to come,” said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. “Our nation faces a stark choice: the energy technologies of the future can be developed and manufactured in America for export around the world, or we can cede global leadership and import these technologies from other nations. As part of President Obama’s plan to revitalize American manufacturing, the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative will seize this opportunity to ensure U.S. leadership in the clean energy sector and advance the global competitiveness of American manufacturers.”

Officials from the Energy Department, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Ford Motor Co., and Dow Chemical launched the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. Now open to U.S. manufacturers, this state­-of-­the-­art facility provides clean energy companies and researchers with a test bed for the development of less expensive, better performing carbon fiber materials and manufacturing processes.

“This continues ORNL’s track record of developing new materials and processes that spawn new products and industries,” said ORNL director Thom Mason. “We translate basic science into the innovation that creates jobs, and our new facility will help the U.S. establish a leadership position in the growing carbon fiber manufacturing sector.”

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 lb/340 kg by 2020. The Carbon Fiber Technology Facility is designed to help industry and researchers develop better and cheaper processes for manufacturing these materials, including the development of alternate precursors used in carbon fiber production. It will produce up to 25 tons of carbon fiber each year, providing U.S. companies with enough material, infrastructure and technical resources to test and scale ­up different approaches to lower carbon fiber costs and efficient production.

Supported by a $35 million Energy Department grant, the 42,000­-ft2/3,902m2 facility features a 390­-ft/119m-­long melt-­spun fiber line to produce raw fiber materials and expects to add an additional conversion line in the coming months. The facility has attracted a consortium of more than 40 private and public sector partners, including Ford, Dow Chemical and Volkswagen of America. 

The Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative is focused on increasing U.S. competitiveness in the production of clean energy technologies and strengthening U.S. manufacturing competitiveness across all sectors by increasing energy productivity. Key elements of the initiative include:

  • Increasing funding for clean energy manufacturing research and development that will accelerate U.S.­based manufacturing of cost­-competitive clean energy technologies, from wind, solar and geothermal to batteries and biofuels.
  • As a part of this increased focus on manufacturing research and development, the Energy Department awarded more than $23 million in innovative manufacturing research and development projects.
  • The Energy Department has also released a $15 million funding opportunity to reduce the manufacturing costs of solar energy technology, including photovoltaics and concentrated solar power, and demonstrate cost­competitive innovative manufacturing technologies that can achieve commercial production in the next few years.
  • In the coming months, the Energy Department plans to issue a new funding opportunity that supports a new manufacturing innovation institute. This step supports President Obama’s call for a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), as discussed in the State of the Union last month.