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US DOE launches US$40 million for clean energy materials

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US Department of Energy has announced the launch of its Energy Materials Network (EMN), a new National Laboratory led initiative that will give American entrepreneurs and manufacturers a leg up in the global race for clean energy. Leveraging US$40 million in federal funding in its first year, EMN will focus on tackling one of the major barriers to widespread commercialisation of clean energy technologies: the design, testing, and production of advanced materials. By strengthening and facilitating industry access to the unique scientific and technical advanced materials innovation resources available at DOE’s national labs, the network will help bring these materials to market more quickly.

“Manufacturing better materials for clean energy products has the potential to revolutionise whole industries, but only a small fraction of the materials investigated in the laboratory currently make it to widespread market deployment,” said DOE Under Secretary Franklin (Lynn) Orr. “By bringing together American manufacturing expertise, academic leadership in discovering new materials, and the exceptional capabilities of DOE’s National Labs, the Energy Materials Network can spark a revolution in commercialising clean energy materials.”

“Through the Energy Materials Network, the national laboratories and their partners will develop and apply cutting edge new materials research tools that will allow us to dramatically accelerate clean energy materials discovery, by doing things like using computers to search completely new parts of the periodic table at record speed and performing high throughput experiments that synthesise and test thousands of materials at a time instead of just one or two,” said DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. “This could be a true game changer for accelerating cost reduction through innovation for a wide array of clean energy technologies all across the board.”

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is providing the funding to establish EMN’s four initial national laboratory led consortia and solicit proposals for collaborative research and developments (R&D) projects with industry and academia.

Each EMN consortium will bring together national laboratories, industry, and academia to focus on specific classes of materials aligned with the industry’s most pressing challenges related to materials for clean energy technologies. For example:

  • The Lightweight Materials Consortium (LightMat), led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will enable increased vehicle fuel efficiency by designing specialised alloys and carbon fibre reinforced polymer composites that can be manufactured on a large scale. LightMat’s industrial partners will be able to use LightMat’s streamlined collaboration tools, such as simplified technology transfer agreements to facilitate access to the capabilities of the nine national laboratories who are participating in this consortium.
  • The Electrocatalysis Consortium (ElectroCat), led by Argonne National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, will be dedicated to finding new ways to replace the rare and costly platinum group metals currently used in hydrogen fuel cells with more abundant and inexpensive substitutes, such as the earth abundant metals iron and cobalt. Finding an alternative to platinum for fuel cells will mean lower costs for US manufacturers and consumers, addressing a key barrier to fuel cell deployment in a wide range of applications such as power plants and vehicles.
  • The Caloric Cooling Consortium (CaloriCool), led by Ames Laboratory, will leverage the laboratories’ capabilities in the field of ‘caloric’ refrigerant materials to develop, demonstrate and deploy these innovative cooling technologies. Accelerating the development of caloric materials could lead to an overall reduction in US energy demand for cooling and will facilitate a move from today’s refrigerants towards an environmentally friendly and energy efficient cooling solution.

One additional consortium focused on developing new materials to make solar photovoltaic modules more durable and cost effective will be established later this year. In Fiscal Year 2017, more than US$120 million in funding has been requested to continue to support an enduring network of capabilities in these areas and to launch three more consortia to investigate additional classes of advanced materials for clean energy (catalysts for biofuels and bioproducts, materials for renewable hydrogen production, and low pressure, materials-based hydrogen storage), which together will transform the nation’s approach to advanced materials development.

Overall, the EMN consortia will form a network of advanced materials R&D capabilities and resources that will support the Administration’s commitment to revitalising American manufacturing and maintaining a competitive edge in the clean energy economy. This effort supports the President’s Materials Genome Initiative, which is working to discover, manufacture, and deploy advanced materials twice as fast, at a fraction of the cost. EMN also supports the recommendations of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0, a White House convened working group of leaders from industry, academia, and labour, which highlighted the importance of producing advanced materials for technologies critical to US competitiveness in manufacturing.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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