Why 3D printing is making East Tennessee a hotspot for advanced manufacturing

A recent article published online by Curbed is highlighting why Knoxville is becoming a power house in the advanced manufacturing sector in Tennessee.

Advanced manufacturing or additive manufacturing is an industry already changing the way the world consumes energy. For example, by 3D printing a car out of composites or light-weight materials that car weighs less which thus improves it’s overall fuel economy aligning with national goals to reach 54.5 MPG fuel standards by Model Year 2025.

The article praises 3D printing in Tennessee stating: “while industrial-capability 3D printing is still in development, this cutting-edge technology has already resulted in clusters of like-minded companies. And one of the most bustling areas for additive manufacturing in the country, and perhaps the world, may just be eastern Tennessee.”

It elaborates by saying Knoxville’s emergence is payoff for government investment in research and development citing Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a hub for government support of advanced manufacturing, and the lab has created a magnet luring innovative manufacturing companies.

Companies such as Local Motors, a firm developing 3D-printing cars, is planning on opening a facility in Knoxville early next year.

“Knoxville provides a unique opportunity,” says Kyle Rowe, an advanced materials engineer at Local Motors. “This is a budding technology corridor, with lots of suppliers and big players. That builds a self-sustaining network. Our supplier is just down the road.”

The innovations in East Tennessee go way beyond the desktop devices that most associate with the technology. In factories in Knoxville and nearby Clinton, companies are printing cars and even homes, living up to the aspirational “Innovation Valley” title applied by local civic boosters.

While the AMIE system created by SOM and Oak Ridge is made to go anywhere, its true legacy may be introducing advancements that reshape home energy usage and production. (Credit: Curbed)

While the AMIE system created by SOM and Oak Ridge is made to go anywhere, its true legacy may be introducing advancements that reshape home energy usage and production. (Credit: Curbed)

Oak Ridge researchers worked with architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (who also masterplanned the city of Oak Ridge, back in the ‘40s) to fabricate a 3D-printed mobile home that looks like a 21st century Airstream. Branch Technology, a local firm that prints modular housing recently collaborated with New York-based SHoP Architects to create Flotsam & Jetsam, a sprawling pavilion displayed at Design Miami last weekend that utilizes bamboo.

The core of the Knoxville’s 3D-printing capabilities come out of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a cutting-edge research facility with more than 60 metal and polymer printers, as well as a composites laboratory. According to William Peter, who runs the MDF, the lab has spoken with more than 700 entities interested in gaining experience with new technology and collaborating with top scientists.

The plastic "ribs" that form the frame of the mobile home were made via 3D printing and additive manufacturing. (Credit: Curbed)

The plastic “ribs” that form the frame of the mobile home were made via 3D printing and additive manufacturing. (Credit: Curbed)

Related: LeMond Composites announces carbon fiber plant opening in Oak Ridge, brings 242 jobs

Ever since the lab decided to extend its focus on additive manufacturing around 2007, it has refined and expanded the possibilities of 3D printing, from simple plastics to carbon fiber and metal. Now, 40 staff members and dozens of students and partners focus on new ways to create high-performance parts and products.

In addition to Oak Ridge, Knoxville is also home to the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI). IACMI is a multi-state partnership of industry, universities, national laboratories, and federal, state and local governments accelerating the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for low-cost, energy-efficient advanced polymer composites for vehicles, wind turbines, and compressed gas storage which will benefit the nation’s energy and economic security.

To read the full article, please visit www.curbed.com.

LeMond Composites announces carbon fiber plant opening in Oak Ridge, brings 242 jobs

The old Theragenics facility in Oak Ridge will soon be getting a facelift thanks to a $125 million investment by LeMond Composites. This announcement is not only opening the door for East Tennesseans by offering 242 high-paying jobs but also for the state’s economy.

lemond-cycles-2017-carbon-fiber-bicycles-comingLeMond Composites is part of LeMond Companies, a group led by three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd alongside company officials announced LeMond Composites will begin making a new industry-disrupting carbon fiber for the transportation, renewable energy and infrastructure markets.

Carbon fiber is a strong, lightweight material used for advanced composites in a variety of applications including making both bikes and vehicles more efficient by making them weigh less.

LeMond Composites “Grail” carbon fiber is low-cost and high-quality and its changing the industry because not only is it more affordable but the way it’s produced uses substantially less energy compared to other carbon fiber manufacturing processes.

With the invention of “Grail” carbon fiber, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards of 54.5 mpg by 2025 are now achievable.

Photo Credit: Composites Manufacturing Magazine

Photo Credit: Composites Manufacturing Magazine

The former professional road racing cyclist says he was exposed to his first carbon fiber bike 30 years ago. Just as weight in a car requires more energy consumption, riding like LeMond did requires more energy if the bicycle is heavier.

Today, LeMond Composites has executed a license with ORNL for what the company describes as “one of the most significant developments in carbon fiber production in over 50 years.”

A breakthrough process invented by Connie Jackson, Co-CEO of LeMond Composites and a research team at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF) will reduce production costs by more than 50% relative to the lowest cost industrial grade carbon fiber. Incredibly this new carbon fiber has the mechanical properties of carbon fiber costing three times as much. Until now, manufacturing carbon fiber was an extremely energy-intensive process. This new method reduces energy consumed during production by up to 60%.

LeMond plans to break ground on the new facility in January and the first commercially available product will be ready in the first quarter of 2018.

Tennessee small business chosen to work with ORNL on clean energy tech

Nano Elements Source, LLC, located in McDonald, Tennessee has been selected to work alongside the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help their technology get closer to the marketplace.

20L of fermentation mixture ready for nanoparticle separation. Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

20L of fermentation mixture ready for nanoparticle separation. Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The business is among 43 selected to participate in the second round of DOE’s Small Business Vouchers (SBV) pilot. With these vouchers, the businesses can take advantage of the department’s National Laboratory System and bring their next-generation clean energy technologies to the marketplace faster. The 43 awards total more than $8 million and are worth up to $300,000 each at a lab.

Nano Elements Source, LLC, was chosen along with five others to collaborate with ORNL. The company will work with the national lab to further commercialize the production of low cost, cadmium free photoluminescent nanoparticles for applications in solid-state lighting.

“The team at Oak Ridge has the best experience and the best alignment of resources we could have asked for. It’s exactly what we need at this stage of our business. This SBV award gives us the chance at succeeding,” said Dr. Beth Papanek, Vice President of Business Development at Nano Elements Source, LLC.


Dr. Beth Papanek, Vice President of Business Development at Nano Elements Source, LLC

The business is a biotech startup offering affordable, environmentally-conscious quantum dot cores. The nanoparticles are in the center of the quantum dots, and they are particles that emit light. Quantum dots are commonly used in consumer electronics such as TV screens and tablets. Quantum dots are considered more energy efficient than LED lights, because unlike LEDs that have to filter out all the other light colors to get the desired color on an electronic device, quantum dots emit the desired color right away without producing excess amounts of light. They ultimately use less electricity to get the same desired picture on a TV screen or tablet.

Nanoparticles and quantum dot cores go hand-in-hand. The way nanoparticles are currently produced now is energy-intensive and environmentally unfriendly because they produce hazardous waste. But Nano Elements Source, LLC has come up with a natural process that will produce high-quality quantum dots without consuming as much energy through using bacteria and fermentation.

Nanofermentation reduces the required energy consumption by operating at 70℃ with no additional mechanical inputs. By comparison, current technologies for nanoparticle production include harmful chemicals, temperatures from 400-600℃ and mechanical grinding to reduce the size of the particles. These methods make the energy requirements and cost for producing the particles extremely high. The reduction in heat and processing through fermentation greatly improves the energy efficiency of producing quantum dot cores.

For a look at the other businesses that will be working with ORNL, click here.

Hybrid Battery from ORNL Reduces Corrosion, Contributes to Grid Efforts

The nation’s commitment to grid modernization continues to pick up speed, with significant advancements being made in East Tennessee. On the heels of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) announcement of a commitment to $200 million for more than 80 projects to modernize America’s grid, TAEBC Charter member, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) introduced earlier in February a new approach to batteries that shows significant promise for grid usage.

Credit: ORNL

Credit: ORNL

ORNL’s battery approach uses inexpensive and plentiful aluminum and lithium – containing cathodes to increase capacity, cycling performance, and safety. According to ORNL’s release, the hybrid battery uses aluminum as the anode – a negative electrode – instead of lithium or graphite. It also uses a new cell design that significantly reduces the problem of corrosion caused by the strong acidic nature of electrodes.

All of this research work, published in the journal Chemical Communications, results in a battery that potentially offers alternative energy storage devices for multiple applications at a lower cost.

That’s good news for the nation’s progress toward grid modernization. ORNL is expected to be involved in more than 25 of DOE’s 80 funded grid projects, with the scope of work to include transformer research, analysis, and testing.

Grid modernization efforts explore the concept of microgrids, a localized group of electricity sources and loads that can disconnect and function on their own, separate from a traditional centralized grid.

Microgrids continue to be researched and investigated in Tennessee, both for their ability to function autonomously and for their capacity to operate as economic conditions warrant. Modernizing the nation’s grid remains a high priority for DOE with DC stating that the “grid is essential to reducing carbon emissions, creating safeguards against attacks on infrastructure, and keeping the lights on.”

DOE says increased funding is being made available to further strengthen ongoing efforts to improve electrical infrastructure in order to respond to the nation’s energy needs for decades to come.

As progress continues to be announced about grid modernization efforts, TAEBC will keep members updated on the latest from ORNL and DOE.