“We want the next revolution in manufacturing to be made in America!” President Barack Obama proclaimed last week at a visit to Applied Materials in Austin, Tex.
He used the visit to announce a competition to establish the next three “manufacturing innovation institutes” as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The new institutes will be similar to the pilot additive manufacturing institute in Youngstown, Ohio, comprising a collaboration between regional partners from industry, universities and community colleges, and government agencies.
“We are looking for companies and universities who are willing to partner and work together to help turn their regions into centers for high-tech jobs,” Obama said.
Applied Materials manufactures equipment and provides services and software for the advanced semiconductor, flat panel display, and solar photovoltaic manufacturing industries.
According to a White House press release, nearly half-a-million new manufacturing jobs have been added to the U.S. economy in the last three years. In his speech at Applied Materials, Obama called out several large companies that are bringing their manufacturing—and jobs—back to the United States, such as Caterpillar, Ford, and Apple. “There are some good trendlines there, but we’ve got to do everything we can to strengthen that trend,” he said.
The President’s FY2014 budget includes a request for $1 billion to create up to 15 new institutes. However, these next three are being set up through the White House, independent of congressional approval through appropriation.
Two of the institutes will be coordinated by the Department of Defense and one by the Department of Energy. These areas were selected for their commercial potential, applicability to agency missions, and coherence with existing programs such as the Materials Genome Initiative. Full details about the hubs and the government’s other manufacturing activities are available at the Advanced Manufacturing Portal.
They new hubs are (from the White House press release):
Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DoD)
Advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains can lead to ‘factories of the future’ forming an agile U.S. industrial base with significant speed to market advantages. A national institute focusing on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, and sensor and robotics based manufacturing networks will accelerate the innovation in digital manufacturing increasing U.S. competitiveness.
Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing (DoD)
Advanced lightweight metals possess mechanical and electrical properties comparable to traditional materials while enabling much lighter components and products. A national institute will make the U.S. more competitive by scaling-up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes, and lead to significant reductions in manufacturing and energy costs.
Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing (DoE)
Wide-bandgap semiconductor-based power electronic devices represent the next major platform beyond the silicon-based devices that have driven major technological advances in our economy over the last several decades. Wide-bandgap technology will enable significantly more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable-speed drive motors and a smarter, more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications (e.g. reducing the size of a sub-station to a suit case).
The president also used the speech to talk about some of his administration’s high school initiatives on workforce development, especially for the high-tech and manufacturing sectors.
E-glass—already a workhorse reinforcement for fiberglass composites used for everything from shower doors to printed circuit board platforms to boats to storage tanks, and more—may turn out to be the material of choice for a high-tech energy storage system.
Efficient conversion of alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar, is one piece of the problem. The second piece of the problem is storing the energy collected from these cyclic sources until it is needed. With justification, much of today’s energy storage research focuses on batteries of all types: lithium-ion, flow, air, and good old lead acid.
However, there are clever minds working at developing flywheel technology for energy storage. Flywheels work like motors in reverse. Motors draw power to make a shaft and its components turn. An efficient, spinning flywheel can pump power as it slows down.
Flywheels have to durable because of the enormous centripetal force that can be generated. Existing power grid-scale flywheels are made of carbon fiber composites, but a flywheel technology built around E-glass fiberglass is in development, thanks to an infusion of Kickstarter funds.
Bill Gray, founder of Velkess Inc., concedes that carbon fiber polymer composites are six to eight times stronger than E-glass composites. However, according to a phys.org press release, he says that E-glass composite is 10-20 times stronger per dollar and that it will store 10-20 times more energy per dollar.
The company’s Kickstarter webpost says that the key to reducing the cost of flywheels is to use materials that are flexible. Traditional flywheels, Gray says, are made of rigid materials and require expensive, precision machining. Velkess (VEry Large Kinetic Energy Storage System) turned to an E-glass composite design. They say the “flexible system embraces the natural dynamics of the rotor, redirecting any stray energies into stabilizing counter forces. By working cooperatively with these natural rotor dynamics we gain excellent control of the rotor system without having to crush out its irregularities.”
The video on Kickstarter (be ready for the “ask” toward the end) shows the company’s prototype 25-pound flywheel, which it says can store 0.5 kWh of energy for 2 kW of power. The goal is to scale-up to a 15 kWh energy storage capacity, which will require a flywheel weighing about 750 pounds. Apparently, the operation of these things is like running a jet engine sans exhaust fumes. The writer of the phys.org press release speculates that reaching the target of storing 15 kWh of energy will require a flywheel RPM similar to the RPM of a jet engine, which is much higher than the fastest available electric motor speeds.
The company sought $54,000 to scale-up the magnetic bearing system to handle the 750-pound flywheel rotor and raised $56,162. Where mechanical bearings are used, they are made of silicon nitride. Thermal sensors can be built into the system to trigger a shutdown if the internal temperature rises, which could indicate the possibility of an imminent bearing fracture.
Gray expects that flywheel systems will cost about the same as lead acid batteries, but that they will last much longer, with much lower environmental cost.
A workshop in July will consider the promise, progress, and funding priorities of solid oxide fuel cell technology. Credit: NETL.
The National Science Foundation uses workshops as a mechanism to bring together the nation’s best minds and research leaders to wrap a scientific community’s collective mind around complex issues. These workshops are not advisory. As I understand it, the NSF is not looking for recommendations on funding, but it does want to facilitate breakthroughs, cross-fertilization of ideas, and encourage new collaborations. NSF program directors usually drop in, too, and provide information on existing funding mechanisms, new programs, etc.
I’m not a researcher, but I’ve been able to sit in on a few NSF workshops. The format usually involves very short presentations by researchers to highlighting a specific aspect of their work. Part of what makes the workshops unique is the extended discussion sessions that follow the presentations. These are very stimulating with lots of questions and clarifications flying back and forth. The best discussions happen when scientists who might not otherwise be aware of each other realize they are attacking similar problems from different angles.
Sound interesting? Another NSF-sponsored workshop is coming up soon: Jason Nicholas, an assistant professor in the chemical engineering and materials science department at Michigan State University, is organizing a workshop on solid oxide fuel cells—”Solid Oxide Fuel Cells: Promise, Progress and Priorities Workshop.” The event will be July 11-12, 2013 in Arlington, Va., and will bring together a mix of people from academia, industry, and government to discuss ways to advance SOFC research and technology.
Why have a workshop now? Solid oxide fuel cell technology has been around for a while, but does not get as much attention—or support—as might be expected. On the website, Nicholas sketches out key achievements—the promise—of SOFC technology.
Despite major accomplishments in the development of SOFCs over the past decade (reducing SOFC operating temperatures from ~800°C to ~600°C, consistently demonstrating power densities in excess of 1W/cm2 at 600°C and above, reducing SOFC stack costs from >$1,500/kW to ~$150/kW, etc.), and increasing lifetimes from 15,000 to 40,000 hours, many challenges remain. For instance, improved SOFC materials properties and microstructures will allow low temperature (200-500°C) SOFC operation and the associated benefits of improved thermodynamic efficiencies, longer service lifetimes, rapid start-up times, and cheaper balance-of-plant costs.
Nicholas also captures some of the frustration felt by the SOFC community with the lack of priority, despite technological progress, and channels it productively into a justification for proactively championing SOFC research.
One thing which is clear, however, is that SOFC development in the United States has suffered from federal support that was inconsistent and/or dependent on tangentially related, politically sensitive clean-coal/FutureGen/SECA initiatives. With the scrapping of the DOE SECA program, the unjustified exclusion of SOFCs from President Obama’s “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy, SOFC leadership slipping to Japan, the political disgrace accompanying the development of other energy conversion/generation/storage technologies (the bankruptcy of battery maker A123, the Dreamliner battery debacle, the failure of solar panel maker Solyndra, etc), the recent increase in domestic natural gas supplies, the continued worldwide use of hydrocarbons, and President Obama’s push to create a Clean Energy Security Trust, now is the perfect time for a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Promise, Progress, and Priorities (SOFC-PPP) Workshop to re-evaluate the technical promise and funding mechanisms of SOFC research.
The workshop is organized into four sections, each with presentation and discussion format.
- The Promise of SOFCs
- Emerging Research Areas
- Industry Needs
- Technological, Funding and Political Factors Limiting Domestic and Global SOFC Research and Development
The workshop will include about 37 invited participants and about 13 self-nominated participants. NSF funding will cover a double-occupancy hotel room and airfare of up to $400 for domestic workshop participants. The deadline for applying as a self-nominated workshop participant is May 1, 2013. Please see the website for lodging, travel, registration, and workshop organizational details. The findings and conclusions of the workshop will be published as an open-access, peer-reviewed article in the Winter 2013 issue of Interface.
All interested parties are invited to contribute their ideas and suggestions via an online forum, regardless of whether or not they are participating.
Glass beer bottle assembly line. Credit: EPA; Wikipedia.
In January, Peter reported that the board of the newly established Usable Glass Strength Coalition convened for their inaugural meeting in late January. The mission of the coalition of industrial members is to support a sustained effort in the United States to understand why current forms of glass are not stronger, and to develop commercial glasses that are qualitatively stronger than anything currently available. The UGSC is partnered with the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council to establish, manage, and promote its initiatives.
The group is moving fast to get things going and just issued their first call for proposals to study flaw nucleation in glass. Based on announcement details, they are looking to back a significant research effort at the PhD level.
Here are the RFP highlights. Full details are available online.
Request for research proposal
Focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between glass surface structure and chemistry, particularly as it relates to the susceptibility to chemical, thermal, and physical damage. Proposal to answer the fundamental question: Where and how do flaws nucleate in glass?
Please download and read the entire RFP (pdf) before submitting proposals.
Proof and concept research and development anticipated.
Proposals will be considered to support graduate level research at the MS (1.5 year term) to PhD (three-year term) level.
Investment will be commensurate with the project scope, but is anticipated to be in the rage of $90,000–$120,000 per year.
Response due date
May 15, 2013
Contacts and submissions
Technical questions may be addressed to the UGSG technical director, Alastair N. Cormack.
Proposal submissions should be sent electronically to UGSC executive assistant, Donna Banks or by mail to Glass Manufacturing Industry Council–UGSC, 600 N. Cleveland Avenue, Suite 210, Westerville, OH 43082.
The UGSC will evaluate the response using the following criteria.
- Overall scientific and technical merit of the proposed approach
- Respondent’s capabilities and related experience
- Realism of the proposed plan and cost estimates
For more information about UGSC, visit the UGSC page.
Official video (in Spanish only) on new “Innovative Argentina 2020. Credit: Ministry of Science.
I am someone who thinks people in the United States pay far too little attention and give far too little credit to what goes on in Central and South America. For that reason, I try to follow some of the larger news developments in that region, particularly if it has to do with science and engineering. Thus, it definitely caught my attention last week when I saw a report that the Argentine government proposed a new national science strategy, a plan called (I think translated correctly) “Innovative Argentina 2020.” (hat tip to the Knight Science Journalism Tracker at MIT).
As far as I can tell, the new plan sets some huge and admirable goals—I am agnostic about whether the nation has the resources and leadership to achieve them—the main features of which are 1) triple the investment in science, 2) double the number of researchers, and 3) get Argentine researchers who have settled elsewhere to return to their homeland.
The time frame for the first two goals is seven years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anything that lays out a roadmap for either one, or explains the funding sources for expanding the National System of Science, Technology and Innovation.
However, a Google translation of the story I have linked to above seems to indicate that the repatriation issue is a touchy one. Lino Barañao, the government’s science and technology minister, asked rhetorically while presenting the plan, which of the nations great resources were the most poorly managed? He said that most people would suggest the answer is oil. Barañao said the right answer is “even more embarrassing—it is the brains of Argentine scientists.” He went on to say that, in essence, Argentina generously gave free brainpower, and the ability it has to generate prosperity, to the northern hemisphere, and because education in Argentina is free, this means there was “a clear net transfer of resources.”
I don’t claim to know all the factors that come into play when an Argentine scientist or engineer is making a decision about whether to stay or leave, but I do know that there was a time under an adverse political and military situation in Argentina when people with or pursuing degrees were persona non grata, and often among the “disappeared.” Indeed, Barañao, himself, noted there was a time when researchers were “considered dangerous, or at least expendable, ‘because the technology was coming from outside’.”
Lack of respect may be another problem. Barañao explained that because of the lack of support, scientists believe, “We do not ask anything [of Argentina], but do not ask anything of us.” In these circumstances some sit and distance themselves from a society they consider not sufficiently appreciated. The story also speaks of other cultural issues:
Barañao spoke of strengthening the system that involves more collaboration, and that both science universities and companies must pull in the same direction, so that citizens actually receive something in return for their taxes. There is reticence among all the parties, in which the scientist sees the entrepreneur as a selfish entity only thinking of profit, and the employer sees the researcher as a parasite that sucks but never produces anything but sterile knowledge.Barañao said these ideas are false and must be banished by all sides.
I traveled in Argentina around 2003 and, as I recall, the nation then was trying to elevate science and technology, so I assume the new plan is an attempt at achieve some exponential growth. The story reports that investment in science and technology in 2002 was about 0.44 percent of GDP, and the new plan will increase funding from the current 0.65 percent of GDP to 1.65 percent in 2020.
The author of the story injects some of his own opinion, writing that after listening to the plan, “You do not stop thinking about the senseless stupidity that is to ignore the brightest minds of a country.” But he goes on to note that not every Argentine leader has a firm grip on science, and reports that President Cristina Fernandez, bumbled her role in announcing the plan by asserting, for example, that “diabetes is a disease of affluent people” and that Argentine Amaranth also has some essential amino acids “that we do not have.” Of course, Argentina does not have a lock on the stockpile of politicians who haven’t got a clue about S&T.