Skip to main content

NREL to Play Pivotal Role in White House Initiative to Bolster America’s Manufacturing Future

August 10, 2015

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is now part of a multimillion-dollar White House initiative known as the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), which was created to foster emerging technologies that will produce high-quality manufacturing jobs and enhance America’s global competitiveness. Specifically, NREL will be leading the Wind Turbine Technology Area of NNMI’s latest addition, the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI).

Advanced composite materials, such as high-strength fiberglass and carbon fiber, are exactly what the United States needs to accelerate the manufacturing and deployment of certain clean energy technologies. Directionally stronger and lighter than the lightest metals currently available, these materials have excellent potential for widespread use in everything from fuel-economic vehicles and compressed gas storage tanks to industrial equipment and wind turbine blades.

IACMI will focus on lowering the overall cost of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites by 25%, reducing the energy to produce CFRP by 50%, and increasing the recyclability of all composites into useful products by 80% within the next decade. To accomplish these goals, the institute has assembled a diverse team of public and private partners, across multiple industries, including material suppliers, software developers, manufacturers, national laboratories, local government, and academia. These partners have deep experience in all aspects of advanced composites product development processes, from design and prototyping to manufacturing at the commercial scale.

IACMI’s core partner institutions—Michigan State University, NREL, the University of Dayton Research Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Purdue University, University of Kentucky, and University of Tennessee—will oversee the operations related to the five technology areas: vehicles; wind turbines; compressed gas storage; composite materials and process; and design, modeling, and simulation. To better meet supply chain needs and enable and support the growth of regional manufacturing clusters, the technology area associated with each application is strategically located in close proximity to existing original equipment manufacturers, technology centers, and end users.

The formation of IACMI will help catalyze innovation in composite manufacturing in the United States. The Colorado-based Wind Turbine Technology Area will focus on developing advanced composites manufacturing processes for turbine components, including blades, hubs, and nacelles. By building upon the extensive composites and manufacturing expertise of Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, Iowa State University, and The University of Colorado, the technology area will develop new materials and production methods for wind turbine blades—resulting in longer, lighter-weight, and more efficient blades for the next generation of turbines.

Derek Berry, a senior wind technology engineer at NREL and the director of the Wind Technology Area within IACMI, stated, “With the strong support of the State of Colorado and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, we will capitalize on the long and productive history of collaboration between NREL and all of the major wind industry original equipment manufacturers, including Vestas, GE, Siemens, TPI Composites, and LM Wind Power, to develop, test, and deploy transformational manufacturing methods, designs, and materials that will result in increased penetration for wind power in the U.S. energy market.”

To give the institute the jumpstart it needs, DOE awarded $70 million dollars in federal funds over the next 5 years. An additional $189 million in cash and in-kind contributions will be provided by IACMI partners. Now that a cooperative agreement has been established between DOE and IACMI, the institute will focus on ramping up operations within the five technology areas and beginning work on the technical projects that will drive future manufacturing innovation in the composites industry.

For more information on IACMI, visit http://energy.gov/eere/amo/institute-advanced-composites-manufacturing-innovation.

—Kelly Yaker