Manufacturing USA Institute IACMI Gets DoE Funding Renewal for Advanced Composites Manufacturing

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The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) announced that the US Department of Energy (DOE) has renewed the institution’s funding for R&D into the manufacturing of advanced composite materials. The renewal will extend IACMI’s federal funding for five more years, with $6 million slated for the first year.

According to IACMI, the new grant makes the Knoxville, Tenn.-based organization “the first clean energy institute” to have its funding renewed by the DOE. The IACMI, established in 2015, is one of 16 organizations that comprise the Manufacturing USA network — originally called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) — administered by the DOE, Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of Commerce (DOC).

The IACMI’s focus throughout its eight-year history thus far has been to centralize, expand, and help commercialize the US’s progressing knowledge base concerning latest-generation methods for designing, producing, and using composite-based materials. Among other milestones achieved, IACMI claims that its activities have spurred the commercialization of over 25 new composite-based products, and led to 3,000 jobs created at companies that make composites and composite-based parts.

In a press release about the renewal of funding from the DOE, the acting assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Alejandro Moreno, commented, “IACMI is living, breathing proof that when we connect our nation’s leading experts across the manufacturing value chain to listen, learn, and share ideas and best practices, we can have a big impact. The Department is committed to seeing how IACMI will continue to leverage that collaborative spirit into actionable and innovative progress as our partnership continues.”

Chad Duty, the CEO of IACMI, said, “Composites have the power to improve everyday lives. Composite technology will continue to play a crucial role as we develop more sustainable solutions to our country’s energy, transportation and infrastructure challenges. DOE’s continued investment in IACMI will accelerate our progress toward achieving these goals.”

The DOE’s signaling long-term confidence in composite-based materials for decarbonization, specifically, is writing on the wall that every additive manufacturing (AM) company needs to be able to read. Bluntly, everyone in the sector needs to calm down about metal.

The capacity to print with metal is certainly improving at a rapid rate, and will continue to do so into the future. On the other hand, as long as both academia and the private sector keep improving the performance potential of advanced composites, the increase of composite-based materials that can perform as well or better than metals for the same functions will continue.

In that case, it’s difficult to imagine that long-term, and on an aggregate level, metal materials will outperform composites in the area of sustainability. So metal AM will likely keep carving out an impressive niche for itself, but in terms of economy of scale, composites are the future.

Images courtesy of IACMI

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