WASHINGTON — Fiber-reinforced plastics are getting attention and a cash infusion from the White House.
President Barack Obama announced Jan. 9 that the U.S. Department of Energy will launch a competition that will help develop lightweight composites needed for clean energy products including fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, wind turbines and hydrogen and natural gas storage tanks.
The new competition for an Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute will award $70 million over five years to improve U.S. companies' ability to make advanced polymer composites at the speed, cost and performance needed for more widespread production.
The White House also announced the formation of an Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which will work with manufacturers, universities and national labs to support pioneering composites technology development and research.
The IACMI team includes 122 members, and is aimed at creating better composite materials for the automotive, wind turbine and compressed gas storage industries.
Participating states include Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Detroit will house one of IACMI's Centers of Excellence and Michigan State University will serve as a primary academic partner. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has committed to provide $15 million in matching funds to the Michigan portion of the institute.
“This is so important for the auto industry because it is going to help increase adoption of carbon fiber plastic polymers which are absolutely essential to implement light-weighting technologies and meet federal CAFE guidelines,” said Gina Oliver senior director of automotive at the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division.
One of IACMI's aims will be researching recycling, particularly for carbon-reinforced plastics, Oliver said. “We are going to solve the recycling problems for that material,” she said.
American Composites Manufacturing Association (ACMA), another IACMI team member lauded the Obama Administration's efforts towards advancing the composites industry as well as the support the consortium will bring to U.S. manufacturing as the newest addition to the president's National Network of Manufacturing Innovation.
“ACMA also supports the Institute as part of a larger initiative to support education and manufacturing jobs across a range of agencies and federal labs. Programs like this support training and research at universities, a critical component in sustaining and growing composites manufacturing jobs,” said ACMA president Tom Dobbins in a news release.