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3 Ways Our Manufacturing Institutes Are Changing the Clean Energy Game

September 24, 2015 - 3:30pm

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National Network for Manufacturing Innovation institute Power America focuses on advanced power electronics based on wide bandgap semiconductors. Learn how wide bandgap semiconductors could impact clean energy technology and our daily lives. | Video by Sarah Gerrity and Matty Greene, Energy Department.

With hundreds of thousands of jobs in energy, transportation and other sectors added to the economy since 2010, manufacturing is making a big comeback in America.

This upward trend is expected to continue as the nation, and the world, boosts clean energy production and efficient energy usage to combat the threat of global climate change. One major key to strengthening the resurgence of American manufacturing is President Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

As the Apollo lunar mission proved, big things are possible when government and industry work together. The same is true with manufacturing and the NNMI institutes, which are regional hubs of innovation where the best and brightest minds in industry, academia and government work together and share resources to move high-impact manufacturing technologies to the marketplace faster.

The Energy Department is overseeing three of the eight federal NNMI institutes that have been launched to date. Here are a few ways these institutes will make a big impact on America’s clean energy economy:

1. The University of Tennessee Knoxville-led Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation just announced a new industry collaboration facility in Detroit on lightweight materials for vehicle manufacturing. This institute includes 86 private- and public-sector partners and 36 consortium members who are working together to lower the cost of advanced composites like carbon fiber, which is three times as strong and twice as light as commonly used metals.

These materials can go a long way toward improving today’s clean energy technologies. For instance, advanced composites can help wind power manufacturers build bigger and stronger blades to generate more electricity. Advanced composites can also reduce the weight of a typical passenger car by half, boosting efficiency without sacrificing performance and safety, and saving families thousands of dollars in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicle.

2. North Carolina State University-led Power America focuses on advancing a new generation of advanced power electronics based on wide bandgap semiconductors. This institute includes 12 companies and seven universities and National Labs working together to develop advanced manufacturing processes for large-scale production of power electronic devices based on wide bandgap semiconductors, which allow electronic components to be smaller, faster and more energy efficient than semiconductors made from silicon.

This effort has major potential to transform America’s clean energy economy by boosting efficiency in nearly everything we use that uses electricity, including industrial motors, electronic devices, electric vehicles and power grids.

3. Just last week, the Energy Department announced new funding is available for a third NNMI institute on smart manufacturing, which aims to reduce the cost of deployment of advanced sensors, controls, information technology and advanced modeling and computation into the manufacturing sector by as much as 50 percent. The development and widespread deployment of these manufacturing technologies holds great promise to dramatically increase the productivity of American facilities all across the country. This could decrease the amount of energy required per unit output for energy-intensive manufacturing industries -- like steel production -- by up to 50 percent, helping American businesses manufacture more while saving energy and money.

These institutes are part of the Energy Department’s overall efforts to boost American competitiveness in clean energy manufacturing. Go to energy.gov/eere/amo and energy.gov/eere/cemi to learn more.

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