Iowa State’s Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory partners with National Renewable Energy Laboratory in nationwide advanced composite institute

Engineering researchers will provide expertise on designing wind blades for manufacturability as part of a new manufacturing innovation hub announced by the White House.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently selected a collaborative research team that included Iowa State University for a large initiative focused on advanced composites.

The White House announced the new Institute for Advanced Composite Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) on Jan. 9, noting that the Department of Energy and a consortium of 122 companies, nonprofits, and universities will invest more than $250 million – $70 million in federal funds and more than $180 million in non-federal funds – into the institute.

IACMI is part of President Barack Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), which is being created to strengthen the resurgence of American manufacturing.

Advanced composites are becoming more integral to many products because of their strength-to-weight advantage.

Iowa State’s Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will be researching how to incorporate advanced composites, specifically carbon fiber, into wind blade manufacturing.

Frank Peters, who is an associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering and a lead researcher in the Wind Energy Manufacturing Lab, is looking at ways to reduce the variability in wind blade manufacturing through automated methods. While he’s currently working with fiberglass, he says efforts to effectively utilize carbon fiber will be a game-changer for the alternative energy source.

“Carbon fiber will allow for blades that are lighter and eventually enable wind energy production at a lower cost,” he explained.

Sarah Rajala, dean of Iowa State’s College of Engineering and James and Katherine Melsa Professor of Engineering, said, “We are looking forward to working with NREL – one of the leader’s in wind energy – and the other members of this multistate team. Advanced composites are going to play a significant role in the future of American manufacturing, and we’re excited to be a part of that movement.”