[Image above] Credit: BibliothèquesRennes2; Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Clean energy was on the world’s radar in a big way last year. And the U.S. contributed major “green” to the cleanup effort. In fact, the first quarter of 2015 alone saw $50 billion of renewable energy investments—up from $9 billion in 2004, according to a Scientific American article citing Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

As the U.S. partners with other countries across the globe to uphold The Paris Agreement that was reached in December 2015, the investment in clean, renewable energy solutions will only increase moving forward.

Materials science has been and will continue to be at the forefront of clean energy innovations. But significant funds are necessary for research and development in this area to make the impact needed for real changes to the way the world produces, harnesses, and conserves energy.

Luckily, many science agencies can expect to see their federal budgets return to levels not seen since the fiscal year 2013 sequestration in FY 2016, even adjusting for inflation, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

And this week, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a $40 million effort to improve materials for clean energy solutions.

The new national laboratory-led program—called the Energy Materials Network—will “give American entrepreneurs and manufacturers a leg up in the global race for clean energy,” says a DOE news release.

The EMN program will focus on design, testing, and production of advanced materials by facilitating relationships between science and industry to give companies more access to advanced materials innovation resources available at DOE’s national labs in an effort to bring these new materials to market faster.

“Manufacturing better materials for clean energy products has the potential to revolutionize whole industries, but only a small fraction of the materials investigated in the laboratory currently make it to widespread market deployment,” Franklin Orr, DOE under secretary, says in the release. “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 commercializing clean energy materials.”

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is funding the establishment of four initial national laboratory-led consortia to “bring together national labs, industry, and academia to focus on specific classes of materials aligned with industry’s most pressing challenges related to materials for clean energy technologies,” according to the release.

  • The Lightweight Materials Consortium (LightMat), led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will enable increased vehicle fuel efficiency by designing specialized alloys and carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composites that can be manufactured on a large scale.
  • 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 materials.
  • The Caloric Cooling Consortium (CaloriCool), led by Ames Laboratory, will leverage the lab’s capabilities in the field of “caloric” refrigerant materials to develop, demonstrate, and deploy these innovative cooling technologies.

One more consortium will be established later this year, according to the release. It will focus on developing new materials to make solar photovoltaic modules more durable and cost-effective.

Interested in learning more about how you, your company, or your materials program can get a piece of the $40-million pie? Visit EMN’s website.

Also make sure to check out the Materials Challenges in Alternative Renewable Energy conference—an ACerS event that brings together leading global experts from universities, industry, research and development laboratories, and government agencies to collaboratively communicate materials technologies that advance affordable, sustainable, environmentally friendly, and renewable energy conversion technologies. Registration is open for the conference, which will take place April 17-21 in Clearwater, Fla.