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Department of Energy Launches New Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative

Jesse Jenkins's picture

Jesse is a researcher, consultant, and writer with ten years of experience in the energy sector and expertise in electric power systems, electricity regulation, energy and climate change policy...

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  • Mar 26, 2013

Carbon fiber composites for energy technology innovationThe U.S. Department of Energy announced the launch of a new initiative today meant to strengthen American clean energy manufacturing and enhance U.S. competitiveness.

Assistant Secretary of Energy Dr. David Danielson announced the creation of the new Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative at a Tuesday morning event at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, where officials also touted the early success of the laboratory’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.

The new initiative will take a two-pronged approach to strengthening U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, according to a DOE fact sheet.

First, the program will fund research and demonstration projects intended to improve U.S. manufacturing capabilities for clean energy products and their components, including wind turbines, solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, and vehicles.

In a written statement, Dr. Danielson said that the initiative aims to support innovations that will improve the cost-competitiveness of clean energy technologies and move them towards subsidy independence.

“After decades of targeted investments by the Department in American clean energy innovation, we have made tremendous progress, and we are in the unique position where a wide array of technologies—from solar power, wind power and electric vehicles to energy-efficient LED lighting and biofuels—are within five to 10 years of being directly cost-competitive without subsidies,” Danielson wrote.

The Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative will also work to strengthen competitiveness across multiple manufacturing industries by supporting improvements in energy productivity—efforts that allow manufacturers to get more value out of less energy and lower their production costs.

The new effort will integrate a variety of funding opportunities and other efforts supporting manufacturing from across the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Advanced Manufacturing Office.

“This initiative will bring together a wide array of relevant EERE and Department of Energy offices, federal agencies, research institutions, and private sector partners to map out and implement a strategy to ensure that U.S. manufacturers are competitive in the global marketplace,” according to a DOE statement.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Carbon Fiber Technology FacilityThe event today at Oak Ridge was intended to spotlight one such DOE-funded research effort that is already working to advance U.S. manufacturing capabilities—ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (pictured at right). Event participants, including Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga), toured the $34.7 million facility, which features state of the art “semi-production scale” facilities to demonstrate the production of light-weight, high-strength carbon fiber composites and their precursor materials.

The ORNL research facility is intended to demonstrate techniques that will reduce the costs of carbon-fiber components. The facility is capable of producing composites and precursors at near-commercial quantities. Researchers there aim to demonstrate that as production scale increases, costs will fall, creating new opportunities to utilize the light-weight carbon fiber composites, which offer tensile strengths stronger than steel.

Due to high costs or production, carbon fiber today is primary used in specialty products, such as race cars, Boeing’s new Dreamliner aircraft, and high-end golf clubs, bicycles and tennis rackets. Cracking the code on low-cost carbon fiber production could open up a whole new range of applications, including more efficient vehicles, lower-cost wind turbines blades and towers, and other industrial applications.

Under the new Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, DOE aims to fund a variety of similar projects aimed at developing new U.S. manufacturing capabilities and advanced technology know-how.

The Initiative will entail an increase in funding for clean energy manufacturing research, development, and demonstration across the Department, according to Dr. Danielson. Additional details, including funding amounts, will be outlined in President Obama’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2014 proposed budget.

In his 2013 State of the Union Address, the president spotlighted both clean energy technology and advanced manufacturing as pillars of his vision for economic renewal.

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it,” President Obama said. “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise.”

The president also used his address to propose the creation of a new national network of manufacturing innovation institutes, calling for funding for 15 such institutes.

One facility in Youngstown, Ohio is already underway, working on applications of additive manufacturing technology, also known as “3D printing.”

According to DOE officials, the Department will soon announce a new funding opportunity for a Clean Energy Manufacturing Institute as part of the expansion of this national network for manufacturing research. 

Jesse Parent's picture
Jesse Parent on Mar 26, 2013

While of course not perfect, this seems like along the right idea, right?

"The Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative will also work to strengthen competitiveness across multiple manufacturing industries by supporting improvements energy productivity, efforts that allow manufacturers to get more value out of less energy and lower their production costs."

Adam James's picture
Adam James on Mar 26, 2013

Good piece Jesse.

I think the coolest potential aspect of this program is having Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation anchoring clusters of universities, SME's, and manufacturing operations. Since they have grantmaking capacity, it could be a new pipeline for getting early-stage tech through to commercialization.

Someone at DOE also pointed out to me theres a lot of benefit to domestically sourcing these goods, because the positive feedback loops with manufacturing industry and design operations can make cleantech products better.

Anyways, I wrote a little on this here and will have it up on TEC later this week:



Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Mar 26, 2013

Thanks Adam. I'll take a look at your piece.

Yes, these Manufacturing Innovation Institutes in particular are intended to anchor clusters of public, private, and university-sector actors. Very consonant with the National Institutes of Energy concept I outlined with Breakthrough Institute and Third Way in 2009 or the Brookings Metro program's Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes proposal. The trick now of course is transforming those abstract concepts into workable, effective collaborations on the ground. Much harder task then writing a white paper! 


Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on Jun 28, 2013

Hi Cliff, 

I think you might not have the full story on where the shale gas extraction technologies came from. The government’s role was quite a bit more material than you say — not to diminish the role of private industry but to note that they worked in partnership with government on many of the key technologies. Hydraulic fracturing in other geologic formations initially developed in the 40s was not applicable to shale formations for example until additional work supported by the Eastern Gas Shales Project and other federal efforts helped pave the way for later innovations. See:

Where the Shale Gas Revolution Came From” (Breakthrough Institute)


Fracking Developed with Decades of Government Investment” (AP)



Jesse Jenkins's picture
Thank Jesse for the Post!
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