A Long Island-based team has reached the finals of a competition for a $70 million Department of Energy award that would designate a Plainview facility as a federal innovation institute for composite materials.
The bid is part of a broader plan to make Long Island the center of an ecosystem for producing carbon fiber and other high-strength composite materials for use in aircraft, wind turbine blades and next-generation trucks and cars.
Leonard Poveromo, executive director of the Long Island Forum for Technology's 2-year-old Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview, submitted a 20-page concept paper in April to compete against rival proposals from around the country for the five-year program. The DOE notified Long Island's Composites Now! team last week that it had reached the final round. The agency is expected to choose a winner by early fall based on proposals due June 19 that could run several hundred pages.
A NATIONAL TEAM
LIFT and Stony Brook University, prime movers in the DOE bid, have recruited a national team of academic, research and commercial heavyweights to join in the application, including: Boeing Co., General Electric Corp., Daimler AG, Penn State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NASA Langley Research Center, the South Carolina Research Authority and Deepwater Wind, which is seeking to build the nation's first commercial offshore wind farm, near Block Island.
"We have a very strong team," Poveromo said. "It's a national team, but the brick-and-mortar center would be right here."
President Barack Obama announced the competition for the Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composite Materials and Structures on Feb. 25 at the White House. The institute is designed to advance the use of composites in green technologies like energy-efficient vehicles and wind turbines.
So far, efforts to mass-produce components made of carbon fiber and other strong and lightweight composite materials have stumbled on high costs, lack of recycling options and failure to reach output rates required for high-volume products like cars, Poveromo said.
A Department of Energy spokeswoman declined to comment on how many concept papers were submitted for the initial round or how many finalists were chosen.
William Wahlig, LIFT's executive director, said having the Composite Prototyping Center in place should give the Long Island plan a leg up on competitors who would have to find a location for the DOE's center. "We already have a brick-and-mortar prototyping center that New York State had the foresight to invest in," he said. "We're ahead of the curve."
William Worek, associate dean of research and graduate studies at Stony Brook University, said the project will be hotly contested: "This will be quite a competitive process that will have political overtones."
Wahlig said he's shoring up political support for the proposal with Long Island's congressional delegation and the Cuomo administration in Albany. New York's U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand issued a joint letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz in support of the Long Island initiative. Gillibrand said Composites Now! would "create thousands of high-tech jobs right here at home."
Poveromo, who spent decades working with composite materials at Grumman Corp. and then Northrop Grumman Corp., and Wahlig envision small- and medium-size companies springing up in a local composites community.
"It creates a venue for idea exchange," Worek said.
In the near term, Poveromo said, the current prototyping center is seeking to help Deepwater, based in Providence, use composites to build improved wind turbine blades. The "holy grail," however, would be to usher Detroit's automakers into an era where composite materials are used for the bodies of trucks and other large vehicles, he said.
In 2012, LIFT used a $15 million state grant to buy and renovate the 25,000-square-foot Plainview building and to purchase equipment for the prototyping center. Funding was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
WHAT IS A COMPOSITE?
Composites are created when two substances, often with different properties, join to form a material with unique properties.
Concrete is a composite made of pebbles, cement and sand. Our bones are a natural composite made of brittle hydroxyapatite and flexible collagen.
In modern manufacturing, fibers of carbon, Kevlar and glass can be combined with binders like resins to make products that are strong and light. Composites already are incorporated into many bicycles, golf clubs and late-generation jet aircraft.