The U.S. Department of Energy recently launched an initiative aiming to increase domestic production of clean-energy materials such as carbon-fiber composites.
The department said its Clean-Energy Manufacturing Initiative consists of public-private partnerships, additional federal funding and "enhanced analysis of the clean-energy manufacturing supply chain that will guide the department's future funding decisions."
"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," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson.
"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."
Danielson pointed to data showing that global investment in the clean-energy sector has surpassed $260 billion in the last seven years and is predicted to climb to trillions of dollars in the future.
In a news release, the Energy Department said the 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."
The plan includes:
- Increasing funding for clean-energy-manufacturing R&D "that will accelerate U.S.-based manufacturing of cost-competitive clean-energy technologies" such as wind, solar, geothermal, batteries and biofuels.
- Providing additional "energy-productivity training" and technical help for manufacturers to augment current efforts such as the Industrial Assessment Centers, which offer no-cost energy-efficiency assessments for manufacturers.
- Leveraging the capabilities of the national laboratories to evaluate "the U.S. competitive position in manufacturing and prioritize strategic investments that strengthen American competitiveness in the global energy market."
- 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 U.S. clean-energy manufacturing competitiveness. For example, the Energy Department and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness are getting input from government, business, research and labor leaders "to help develop and recommend strategies for growing the U.S. clean-energy manufacturing sector."
Finding Better Ways to Make Carbon Fiber
Coinciding with the unveiling of the plan, officials opened the Energy Department's new carbon-fiber technology facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"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," the Energy Department said in a news release.
Because it is strong, stiff and lightweight, carbon fiber can help U.S. manufacturers produce cheaper and more efficient vehicles, electronics, energy-storage components and other products, according to the Energy Department.
By 2020, the department estimates that carbon fiber could reduce the weight of cars and trucks by up to 750 pounds.
But here's the problem: Carbon-fiber materials are more expensive and complicated to manufacture than steel and aluminum.
In its effort to develop better and cheaper processes for manufacturing these materials, the Energy Department said its new facility "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."
The 42,000-square foot facility features a 390-foot-long melt-spun fiber line to produce raw fiber materials. The department said it expects to add an additional conversion line in the future.
The facility, which received a $35 million Energy Department grant, has attracted a consortium of more than 40 companies, including Ford Motor Co., Dow Chemical and Volkswagen of America.