This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 05, 2014

Energy Department Sponsors Advanced Composites Manufacturing Institute Competition

President Obama on February 25 announced a new competition, sponsored by the Energy Department, to provide $70 million to launch a new Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute. The Institute will focus on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which combine strong fibers with tough plastics to cost-effectively manufacture materials that are lighter and stronger than steel. The Energy Department seeks proposals from teams of nonprofit organizations, universities, national laboratories, and private industry, and will award up to $70 million over five years, subject to congressional appropriations, that must be matched by at least $70 million in non-federal commitments.

While advanced composites are used in selective industries such as aircraft, military vehicles, satellites, and luxury cars, these materials remain expensive, require large amounts of energy to manufacture and are difficult to recycle. The Energy Department’s Manufacturing Innovation Institute for advanced composites will be aimed at overcoming these barriers to widespread use by developing low-cost, high-speed, and energy-efficient manufacturing and recycling processes. Through this work, the Institute will focus on lowering the cost of advanced composites by 50%, reducing the energy used to make composites by 75% and increasing the recyclability of composites to more than 95% within 10 years.

Advanced composites could help manufacturers deliver clean energy products with better performance and lower costs such as lightweight vehicles with record-breaking fuel economy; lighter and longer wind turbines blades; high pressure tanks for natural gas-fueled cars; and lighter, highly energy-efficient industrial equipment. For example, advanced composites could reduce passenger car weight by 50% and improve fuel efficiency by about 35% without compromising performance or safety—helping to save more than $5,000 in fuel over the lifetime of an average car at today’s gasoline prices. In the wind energy industry, doubling the length of a turbine blade can quadruple the amount of electricity generated. Advances in low-cost composite materials will help manufacturers build longer, lighter and stronger blades to capture the maximum levels of wind energy and support a cost-competitive U.S. offshore wind industry. Low-cost advanced composites are also needed to make the storage tanks for vehicles that run on hydrogen and natural gas. See the Energy Department news release.