Liquid Air Energy Network forms in UK; focus on transportation and energy storage
Ford selects AeroVironment as preferred charging station supplier

Obama Administration launches $200M competition for three new manufacturing innovation institutes; WBG power electronics, lightweight metals and digital manufacturing

The Obama Administration is launching competitions to create three new manufacturing innovation institutes with a Federal commitment of $200 million across five Federal agencies: Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. The effort is part of President Obama’s proposed $1-billion investment to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes across the country. (Earlier post.)

The Department of Energy will lead one of the new institutes on “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing” for wide bandgap semiconductors such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) (DE-FOA-0000683). The Department of Defense will lead the other two, focused on “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing” and “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation”.

All three institutes will be selected through an open, competitive process, led by the Departments of Energy and Defense, with review from a multi-agency team of technical experts. Winning teams will be selected and announced later this year. Federal funds will be matched by industry co-investment, support from state and local governments, and other sources.

In August 2012, the Administration announced the winner of an initial $30-million Federal award to create a pilot institute, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). Like NAMII, the three new institutes are expected to become financially self-sustaining, and the plan to achieve this objective will be a critical evaluation criterion in the selection process. DOD and DOE are opening the competition for the three new institutes immediately.

Next Generation Power Electronics. Wide bandgap semiconductor-based power electronic devices (WBG) represent the next major platform beyond the silicon-based devices that have driven major technological advances in the economy over the last several decades.

WBG semiconductors permit devices to operate at much higher temperatures, voltages, and frequencies, making the power electronic modules using these materials significantly more powerful and energy efficient than those made from conventional semiconductor materials.

In electronic devices, WBG semiconductors can eliminate up to 90% of the power losses that currently occur during AC-to-DC and DC-to-AC electricity conversion, and they can handle voltages more than 10 times higher than Si-based devices, greatly enhancing performance in high-power applications. Applied in an EV, WBG materials could cut electricity losses by 66% during vehicle battery recharging, the DOE says. They also offer greater efficiency in converting AC to DC power and in operating the electric traction drive during vehicle use.

The WBG materials can operate at temperatures above 300 °C (twice the maximum temperature of Si-based devices). This tolerance for higher operating temperature results in better overall system reliability, enables smaller and lighter systems with reduced lifecycle energy use, and creates opportunities for new applications.

Wide bandgap technology will thus enable significantly more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable speed drive motors and a smarter more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications (e.g. reducing the size of a sub-station to a suit case).

However, WBG manufacturing faces a number of challenges, including substrate size and cost, device design and cost, and systems integration.

The focus of an Institute in WBG semiconductor power electronics for device fabrication and manufacturing will require circuit design, packaging, and module manufacturing capabilities as well as wafer test metrology equipment to verify wafer quality throughout the photolithographic and chemical processing steps. Furthermore, the development of standard packaging technologies, modeling, and lifetime reliability studies, as well as a centralized testing capability for devices will reduce the need for duplicative capital investments from users. As such, an Institute should offer in-house design capabilities for users, as well as common fabrication and testing equipment for the community.

The Institute is also envisioned to initiate and establish long-term device and system reliability testing, including simulation and modeling capabilities, to identify and couple failure mechanisms to device- and systems-level performance, as well as to benchmark and develop both testing and performance standards for the industry as a whole and the operational requirements necessary for the relevant applications, including electric drive vehicles, solar, and wind power conversion.


Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing. (LM3I) Advanced lightweight metals possess mechanical and electrical properties comparable to traditional materials while enabling much lighter components and products. The institute will scale up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes, and to deliver significant reductions in manufacturing and energy costs.

Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI). Advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains can enable an agile US industrial base with significant speed to market advantage.The institute will focus on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, and sensor- and robotics-based manufacturing networks.




There is noting basically wrong, with using public $$$$ to accelerate innovations, in specific domains, for the benefit of the nation. Most industrial nations do it openly.

What is rather surprising, is that the above practice has become essential, in the country where the almighty private enterprises supposedly knew how to do it better?

This is and will a rude awakening for many?


There is something very wrong with simply giving blank checks to speculative companies that are run by cronies of the administration.

This plan involves competition & matching funds from other organizations - a step in the right direction.


Cronies were Bechtel and Halliburton in the previous so called administration.


Harvey, the USA used to have a research tax credit which made possible private standing research organizations like Bell Labs.  When the tax credit was axed, these research arms could no longer be justified and their activities were drastically scaled back or terminated entirely.  Now government is the only source of such funding.


Supporting R & D via direct grants, hand outs, tax credits is much the same and are acceptable ways to do it, as long as private industries are called upon to contribute as much if not more than the public, to make sure that they are financially involved.

Secondly, if the public supports a project at the rate of xx% it such benefit at the same rate. Sharing the risks = sharing the benefits.

For example: all the $$B handed out to Oil Cos, should have been returned @ 125+% via a $/barrel or equivalent for NG produced over 5 years or so?

Public $$ support is a way to direct R & D towards higher national interests and that's also acceptable. It should benefit the majority not the other way around?


Whether private industry should fund it or not, the Government has been subsidizing industry and research since the Lincoln administration, at least -- Transcontinental Railroad (where most of the companies eventually went bankrupt, by the way), and Land Grant Universities. The latter made it possible for west Texas to produce cotton to send to China where it goes into the clothes we buy cheaper than it can be grown in Africa where labor is less expensive. Research to promote industry and jobs.


The question is what is better private or government funding? For private funding to be available we need to reinstate R&D tax credit. So, what is better? There are extremes we have already seen: socialist countries where success is zero and very succesful private enterprises before tax credit was taken. Guess why NASA is trying to use SpaceX - it is just way more cost effective than gov ran machine. Call me crazy but wherever gov starts doing private enterprise job - it is waste, waste, waste and some other not pleasant things. Burocrats will never be able to do it effectively.
People who are able to innovate do it within or without being incorporated into institutes. Creating an "innovative" organization does not mean that something good will come out out of it. How in a hell they are going to be self sustaining organizations? Who is going to pay for their self sustaining? You and me Ladies and Gentlemen.


Governments, Pension Funds, Various Organizations etc can be silent partners to selected industries to accelerate development. It does not have to be a give away, hand outs, grants and/or tax credits but plain start-up (short term - less than 10 years) investments (low cost loans or preferred and/or normal shares).

Whoever shares the risk should share the profits proportionally.


Potentially they can be but how do those bozos know what industry to support and to what extend? Gov. "Experts" will be promoting industries they are in. This can go on and on.
The government potentially can support something where private industry already invested a lot with obvious success and it (private industry) needs a little oomps to overcome the hurdle. But I am no sure even in that.


To add to the post above: Solindra and Fisker Automotive are good examples that gov. help does not work if something is wrong with a company.


CC, even private investors can't pick winners all the time. And their "bozos" are paid more to make the same misstakes.


Yes, many private bankers got up to $120M bonus to drive their bank into bankruptcy? The same happened at GM and many others.

To reduce the level of risk and political influence, an independent (Supreme Court style) selection board(s) could be created (with rotating members from different universities etc)


CC..'risk development Capital' is what it is. Being risky, failures will be frequent, anywhere between 10% and 50%.

That inherent high failure rate justifies high returns from the successful ones. Governments (and other investors) need those high returns to recover the public/private $$$ invested.

The comments to this entry are closed.