Composites have been supporting the automotive, aerospace, infrastructure and renewable energy industries and have been classified as one of the top three strategic manufacturing materials by President Joe Biden's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
"It's looking like there's going to be environmental impacts as we're making lighter materials. With automobiles, for example, we reduce the environmental impact of moving those automobiles across the country as we extend the range of electric vehicles," Chad Duty, CEO of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, said in an interview with Plastics News.
"It's a multi-faceted approach to making more sustainable, environmentally responsible solutions," he said.
IACMI announced April 11 it is receiving a funding renewal from the Department of Energy.
The funding will be granted over the next five years, with $6 million for the first year. IACMI, based in Knoxville, Tenn., is on track for its originally proposed funding of $30 million from DOE.
This will build on the initial institute funding of $70 million from DOE and more than $130 million from IACMI's member partners.
"This continued support is important because it allows us to leverage all the foundational work, focusing on impact results," Duty said. "We don't have to rebuild the foundation, it's already there, the membership and facilities are there, the procedures are in place. Now we can just really spend the majority of our effort on the research, projects, training and results."
Much of IACMI's work is with carbon-fiber and fiberglass composites, durable materials with a low carbon footprint over its lifetime. They are focusing on increasing the performance of these materials, making them stronger, stiffer and lighter, while reducing the cost.
To cut costs, IACMI wants to improve the building blocks of composites and look at different ways to make the carbon-fiber materials, to change their properties. They are also looking at different feedstocks to make the materials stronger.
"There's a lot of research going on in those areas as well as looking at simulation and modeling so that we can start looking at overall system level approaches to the manufacturing process so that we know where the opportunities for performance enhancement are," Duty said. "Then we can start making life cycle cost analysis."
The matrix materials are made up of plastics from thermosets to epoxy to thermoplastic materials. IACMI officials said they can't comment on the development and research around the different polymer matrix forms.
The consortium is also working on more sustainable approaches to increase the lifespan of composites and to develop new ways to recycle them.
They are looking at ways to reclaim fiber reinforcements into potentially other high-tech applications or downcycling them into lower mechanical applications.
IACMI said the new funding will also help with R&D to make products more sustainable with the use of composites. IACMI is also working on stronger and cheaper composites for the wind energy industry.
The Biden administration has set a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, but to achieve that, turbine blades must be up to twice as long, requiring a more durable material.
IACMI, which was established in 2015, counts Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee, Michigan State University, Purdue University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Vanderbilt University among its members.
It currently includes more than 120 industries, universities, national laboratories and government agencies.
"There are groups within each one of those organizations that are IACMI-focused, coming together and collecting all of those resources together to push composite technology and the whole ecosystem farther," Duty said. "This is an economy that's growing the composite space, and they're good paying jobs that should be around for a long time."
Since its start, IACMI said it has been able to reduce the cost of composites by 25 percent, reduce the energy needed to make them by 50 percent and increase their recyclability by 80 percent.
The institute also said it has catalyzed over 25 new composites-based products and supported the creation of 3,000 jobs at composite materials and parts manufacturers.