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Building a More Competitive American Manufacturing Industry with Advanced Composites

The Obama Administration announces that the University of Tennessee will lead the Energy Department’s new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Energy's website. See the original post here.

Three times as strong and twice as light as the lightest commonly used metals, advanced composites have the potential to revolutionize advanced manufacturing, transforming clean energy products from wind turbines to next-generation passenger vehicles that are made right here in America. These versatile composites are currently used for satellites, airplanes and luxury cars, but by driving down costs and making these materials more accessible to manufacturers across a number of industries, we can make virtually any product made out of metal lighter, stronger and less expensive.

Supporting the further development of these advanced composites will help give America’s resurgent manufacturing sector a more competitive edge in the global economy. After a decade of decline, American manufacturing is coming back, adding 786,000 new jobs since February 2010. Today’s new action is the kind of investment we need to build on this progress, creating the foundation needed for American manufacturing growth and competitiveness in the years to come.

That is why the Obama Administration announced today that the University of Tennessee will lead the Energy Department’s new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites. Headquartered in Knoxville, the institute will focus on making advanced composites less expensive and less energy-intensive to manufacture, while also making the composites easier to recycle.

With these improvements, manufacturers will be able to reinvent products that are at the foundation of our clean energy economy – many of which directly impact our daily lives. Wind turbine manufacturers could build longer, lighter and stronger blades that create more energy. Automobile manufacturers could build passenger cars that are 50 percent lighter and use 35 percent less gasoline, saving American families money when they fill up their gas tanks.

A great example is the 3D-printed Shelby Cobra that the President will see during his visit to Techmer Engineered Solutions. The car demonstrates a number of cutting edge technologies, and shows how the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institutes could leverage each other’s strengths and achieve more together than they could on their own. The Cobra was 3D-printed with advanced composites that cut its weight in half while improving performance and safety. The motor is powered by wide bandgap power electronics that are more efficient and less expensive than traditional silicon technologies, and the electric vehicle can be charged wirelessly. The Cobra’s innovation may be rivaled only by its manufacturing process. The car was developed by six people in just six weeks, when it normally takes a year and a team of dozens to achieve a similar demonstration from design concept to prototype.

To learn more, watch our latest video on how advanced composites could revolutionize clean energy technology and our daily lives.