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NREL's Advanced Manufacturing Projects Front and Center at InnovationXLab

May 24, 2019

NREL's recent groundbreaking advanced manufacturing work was on display at the InnovationXLAB Advanced Manufacturing Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on May 7–8.

NREL Director Martin Keller, along with NREL's Derek Berry, Panos Datskos, Daniel Laird, and Matt Ringer, attended the event on behalf of the laboratory and presented NREL's multipartner collaboration on a first-of-its-kind 9-meter thermoplastic wind blade to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The group also highlighted recent steps NREL researchers have taken in power electronics research and exchanged ideas with industry for potential future partnership opportunities.

The Real Star of the Show

Secretary Perry kept a busy schedule over the two days, but he didn't miss an opportunity to tour the outdoor pavilion that showcased innovations in advanced manufacturing. Given his background, it was no surprise when he gravitated toward NREL's recyclable 9-meter thermoplastic wind blade, developed through a major collaboration among laboratories, academia, and industry.

The team developed the blade using advanced thermoplastics, which promise lower energy use during production and a corresponding reduction in manufacturing cost. The advanced composite materials are made from post-consumer products, are lighter-weight, and demonstrate improved durability. This next-generation technology could allow for easier repairs, extend the life of a blade, and demonstrate the potential for future wind blades to be recycled.  

"Our research into the use of thermoplastic resin systems could be a game-changer," said Berry, a senior wind technology engineer at NREL. "This work, which is being done through the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation at NREL's Composites Manufacturing Education and Technology facility, will potentially enable the recycling of all wind blades at the end of their service life, while reducing the cost of energy produced using these innovative blades."

NREL Senior Engineer, Derek Berry, and Energy Secretary, Rick Perry

Derek Berry presents to Secretary Perry on the technology behind the 9-meter thermoplastic wind turbine blade, which was on display at the recent InnovationXLab Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photo by Matt Ringer, NREL

NREL featured other notable advanced manufacturing projects at the summit as well, including one that studies the potential of gallium oxide power electronics and another highlighting a partnership with John Deere to develop a silicon carbide wide-bandgap inverter prototype for use in hybrid-electric heavy-duty construction vehicles.

Secretary Perry was not the only one taking note of the technology and innovation behind NREL's projects. Industry attendees met with NREL staff throughout the event to learn more about current and future opportunities to collaborate on projects that will find manufacturing solutions and accelerate innovation.

Setting the Stage for Future Advanced Manufacturing Research

During the summit, Secretary Perry revealed a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for $89 million to support innovative advanced manufacturing research and development projects. This announcement follows another FOA to address cybersecurity issues for energy efficient manufacturing.

"Embracing new technologies that drive innovation in American manufacturing is the key to creating real-world progress that significantly improves energy efficiency in manufacturing," said Secretary Perry. "By focusing on energy-related advanced manufacturing technologies, we are building a new era of manufacturing that will stimulate the economy, create jobs, and build American energy independence."