Industrial materials and chemical companies are involved in a broad range of R&D activities where users must rely on a mix of proven technologies and materials applied in new and/or unique ways. New materials must meet continuing performance improvements in terms of strength-to-weight ratios, cost-effectiveness, sustainable manufacturing, low or zero greenhouse gas (GHG) processing emissions and availability in critical applications. Across all industries, including automotive, aerospace, oil and gas exploration and consumer packaging there is a common need for lighter, more efficient systems that reduce energy consumption, while delivering on the intended mission.
Materials for Energy & Climate
PPG Industries has been supplying fiberglass to the wind turbine industry for more than 15 years. In 2010, with more than $700 thousand in ARRA funds, Pittsburgh-based PPG partnered with MAG Industrial Automation Systems in Erlanger, Ky., to research advanced materials and processes that could result in more reliable wind turbine blades. This research is aimed at reducing production variability that could result in premature failure in the turbine blade. “Everything now is about reducing the cost of renewable energy,” says Cheryl Richards, PPG global marketing manager.
With R&D supporting its corporate and M&A strategies to move up the specialty value chain, Dow Chemical has developed a solar shingle that would bring the largest U.S. chemical manufacturer into an entirely new and lucrative market. These shingles use copper indium gallium diselenide solar modules—made by Global Solar Energy, Inc.—that are wrapped in a proprietary Dow plastic. Dow received a $20 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to develop these shingles. The resulting product has the potential to be installed on an average home for about $6,000 and could supply about half of the homeowner’s electrical power. Dow estimates it could earn about $1 billion in revenue from this product by 2015.
Materials for Aerospace & Defense
Aerospace manufacturers, such as EADS and Boeing are moving into higher use of composite materials, metal hybrid additive manufacturing processes (3-D printing), and powdered metal manufacturing to save weight and reduce fuel requirements for their commercial aircraft. Boeing is in the final stages of qualifying its 787 Dreamliner, which should set the stage for future aircraft construction technologies. Airbus is following with its development of its A350 XWB, a similar carbon-fiber reinforced polymer composite aircraft, which Airbus claims will be even more fuel efficient than the 787.
Shortages May Spur Innovation
A recent report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD Global Forum on Sustainable Materials Management) focused on a number of materials research areas, including critical materials, wood, aluminum and plastics. In the critical materials area, the focus was on antimony, beryllium, palladium and platinum—materials used extensively in mobile phones that are exposed to potential supply risks and subject to supply restrictions. It was found that the use and supply issue of these critical materials are closely connected to innovation and the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.
The Nanotech Phenomena
Nowhere else is materials research so strong in 2010 and 2011 as in nanotechnology. “With nanotechnology, almost every material property can be changed and tailored, electrical, mechanical magnetic, or optical,” says Ray Johnson, Lockheed Martin SVP and CTO. Nanotech started as a three-year pilot investment for Lockheed Martin and is now is entering its fifth year because of its high payoff potential.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) continues to get bipartisan support in Congress and the Administration, with more than $1.7 billion in annual government funding across 15 government agencies from the Dept. of Energy and NASA to the Dept. of Justice. Beyond the $1.7 billion in total NNI investments in 2009, ARRA provided an additional $511 million for nanotech research and infrastructure investments from 2009 through 2011.
Research on fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes is the largest program area of the NNI, with $484 million proposed for 2011. Combined with $342 million for nanomaterials research, this basic research component of the NNI portfolio represents just under half of the total NNI funding request. Other areas of R&D that are supported by the NNI include nanoscale devices and systems ($435 million); instrument research, metrology and standards ($91 million); nanomanufacturing ($76 million); major research facilities and instrumentation acquisition ($178 million); environment, health and safety ($74 million); and education and societal dimensions ($37 million).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are joining the NNI budget crosscut for the first time in 2011. The Dept. of Justice’s investment in nanotechnology furthers the Department’s mission
through sponsoring research that provides objective, independent, evidence-based knowledge and tools to meet the challenges of crime and justice. DOJ continues to view nanotech as an integral component of its R&D portfolio.
One of the main goals of the NNI is that government multidisciplinary research centers partner with industry and economic development organizations. “The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other major supporters of multidisciplinary nanotechnology-focused research centers should explicitly support, maintain, and strengthen cross-sector linkages.”
A significant amount of advanced materials R&D involves the development of instrumentation that can characterize and test these materials, including nanoscale materials.