Kelly Visconti, P.E., technology manager and IACMI program manager in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office discussed opportunities to save energy and increase competitiveness during Tuesday’s “Composites for Clean Energy” session at CAMX.

Visconti says that the Advanced Manufacturing Office wants to help U.S. companies create the next great technology. “It’s not enough to invent it,” she stresses. “We need to competitively make it in the U.S.”

Creating energy-saving composite processes and products are key, and there are opportunities across the industry, she says, from energy -saving supply chain management to new manufacturing processes to lightweight end products that use less energy. Visconti cites carbon fiber production as an example. “Carbon fiber in particularly is a very energy intensive material to manufacture,” she says. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, especially in carbon precursor manufacturing. You can see how that might drive alternative precursors and alternative ways of manufacturing precursors.”

To help drive innovation to market, the DOE has created 14 public-private research institutes based on industry. IACMI – The Composites Institute has more than 200,000 square feet of R&D facilities in seven states, including Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Its goal is to create clean-energy solutions and manufacturing competitiveness across the U.S. composites industry. Making carbon fiber more energy efficient is a big push. The institute’s technical goals for 2020 are to reduce the cost of CFRP by 25 percent, reduce CFRP embodied energy by 50 percent and increase CFFP recyclability by 80 percent.

“What we’re interested in is driving these low-volume, high-value niche applications that are in the aircraft, aerospace world into high production, such as automotive, which has hundreds of thousands of parts a year – and not just for nonstructural applications, but structural,” says Visconti.

Applications that capitalize on the lightweight, strong, stiff and corrosion-resistant properties for vehicle light weighting, wind turbine length extension and pressure vessels for hydrogen and natural gas storage are particularly promising areas, Visconti says, as are buildings, civil infrastructure, industrial, oil and gas, rail and marine hydrokinetic.

Ongoing R&D Projects at the DOE include:

  • The Fuel Cells Technology Office is developing an ultra-high strength fiberglass that should cost half as much as other ultra-high strength fibers.
  • The Vehicle Technology Office is working on advanced oxidation and stability for carbon precursor fiber using plasma oxidation instead of conventional ovens for up to three times improvement in the product and a 20 percent cost reduction.
  • The Wind Energy Technologies Office is studying the potential use of additive manufacturing in wind turbine components and tools, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • The Wind Energy Technologies Office is also part of a composite blade reliability collaborative with Sandia National Lab.
  • The DOE is conducting advanced materials research and analysis of composite materials and coatings for marine hydrokinetic applications.
  • The DOE is also working on a demonstration of carbon fiber made from textile polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor up to 610K tow.