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Clean Energy Manufacturing Should be Done in America, Not China

Article originally from ClearPath

At ClearPath, we’re focused on accelerating technological innovation to advance a cleaner and more reliable energy system. Yet too often, innovative technologies invented in America are scaled and manufactured in foreign countries like China who don’t share our values, or our environmental standards. That’s why we are constantly seeking solutions to make sure clean energy innovation promotes U.S. jobs, growth, and security.

A strong U.S. industrial sector is essential to ensuring new technologies invented in the U.S. can be manufactured domestically, rather than in China, which would result in more jobs and fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Manufacturers employ more than 12 million Americans and account for about one-third of U.S. energy consumption. Those impressive numbers mean the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), the only technology R&D office in the federal government dedicated entirely to improving the energy productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. industrial sector, has an outsized role to play.

With the recent passage of the Energy Act of 2020 and a strong foundation of initiatives seeded in the last few years, AMO is positioned as a unique lever to accelerate clean energy innovation in ways that promote America’s economic growth and global competitiveness.

AMO is Positioned as a Unique Lever to Accelerate Clean Energy Innovation

AMO: The Force Multiplier for Clean Energy Innovation

AMO resides as one of 11 Department of Energy (DOE) technology offices within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE’s total annual funding is more than $2.8 billion, with AMO essentially tied with the Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) as EERE’s largest technology offices by budget. AMO has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in recent years, with annual funding rising from $257 million in 2017 to $395 million in 2020, a 53% increase in three years. Given how crucial manufacturing is to our economy, this is the type of targeted, goal-oriented federal investment lawmakers of both parties can support.

I recently served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at DOE, where part of my portfolio included overseeing AMO’s growing budget and staff. AMO is organized around three subprograms: R&D Projects, R&D Consortia, and Technical Partnerships. The consortia portfolio included overseeing AMO’s Manufacturing USA Institutes and Energy Innovation Hubs, public-private partnerships that cover diverse topics from advanced composites, smart manufacturing, and critical materials, among others. It also included establishing two new consortia, one focused on cybersecurity for industrial control systems, and the other on water innovation and security. Through these institutes and hubs, AMO has established a national network of partnerships dedicated to accelerating industrial innovation and strengthening U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

Since 2017, goal-oriented investments for AMO allowed us to strengthen high-impact existing programs while seeding new, cross-cutting initiatives. Most recently, in January 2021, AMO invested more than $123 million in 46 projects across 23 states on a wide range of advanced manufacturing technologies, including more than $20 million for innovative iron and steelmaking processes and another $20 million for carbon capture and direct air capture at industrial facilities – AMO’s first competitive solicitation on carbon capture.

AMO Invested More Than $123 Million in 46 Projects Across 23
States on a Wide Range of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

The following list describes some of the most promising AMO initiatives seeded in the last few years. These initiatives form a foundational investment portfolio for Congress and DOE to build upon to accelerate clean energy innovation across sectors.

Critical Minerals Supply Chain

Energy storage is a crucial lever to integrate variable renewables, improve reliability, and enhance the efficiency of a rapidly evolving electric grid. Yet much of the battery storage supply chain is dominated by China, including the supply of critical minerals such as cobalt and lithium. AMO plays a key role advancing the Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals. Part of that strategy, published in 2019, includes expanding investments across the critical mineral supply chain, from mining to separations, processing, and recycling. AMO conducts R&D in all of these areas, but recently expanded its focus on the separations and processing part of the supply chain, a key weakness that America must overcome to achieve mineral security from China.

In January 2020, AMO awarded more than $50 million in funding for critical minerals separations and processing technologies, including nearly $37 million in demonstration projects – AMO’s first demo-scale critical minerals awards. Building on the success of AMO’s long-running Critical Materials Institute, managed by Ames National Lab, these scale-up projects provide a solid foundation on which AMO can build out a portfolio of critical mineral demonstration projects in the coming years.

Battery Manufacturing

Reducing dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals is just one piece of the battery supply chain. The U.S. must also support a competitive battery manufacturing sector for lithium-ion and advanced battery chemistries. As part of DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge (more on that here), AMO has ramped up investments in advanced battery manufacturing technologies. Last year, AMO and VTO co-funded a Battery Manufacturing Lab Call, which provided $15 million in funding to help private sector battery developers de-risk and scale their technologies at the DOE National Lab’s distributed federation of user facilities.

Separately, AMO invested more than $45 million in competitive projects to develop innovative battery manufacturing technologies, including roll-to-roll processing that enables fast, efficient battery production at scale. While a good start, demonstration-scale investments will be needed to de-risk and scale-up a domestic industrial base for advanced batteries.

Battery Recycling

The final challenge of securing America’s battery supply chain lies with addressing the end-of-life. While demand for batteries used in electric vehicles and stationary energy storage will grow dramatically in the coming years, less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled.

To address this growing problem, in 2019 AMO and VTO launched two new programs: the Battery Recycling Prize, a $5.5 million series of prize competitions to spur innovative solutions to battery recycling, and the ReCell Center at Argonne National Lab, the country’s first federal advanced battery recycling R&D center. With cost-effective advanced recycling technologies, the U.S. can mitigate the environmental legacy of spent batteries while reducing our dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals.

By building upon recent AMO investments in critical minerals, battery manufacturing, and battery recycling, Congress and DOE can accelerate the development of a competitive U.S. battery supply chain.

Hydrogen at Scale

EERE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) leads the Department’s H2@Scale program, an initiative to enable affordable hydrogen production and use across multiple sectors, including metals refining, ammonia production, and chemical processes. Achieving the H2@Scale vision requires extensive cross-sector collaboration, which is why DOE recently published its 2020 Hydrogen Program Plan. Co-signed by the DOE Assistant Secretaries for EERE, Fossil Energy, and Nuclear Energy, the Program Plan is a strategic framework to coordinate and accelerate hydrogen RD&D.

The plan includes expanding collaboration with AMO to enable domestic manufacturing of electrolyzers for hydrogen production, hydrogen storage tanks, and fuel cells, among other areas. Most recently, AMO co-funded $22 million in projects focused on electrolyzer manufacturing and enabling the use of hydrogen in steelmaking processes. Implementing the DOE Program Plan, including by expanding AMO’s hydrogen portfolio, will be key to accelerating the hydrogen economy.

Industrial Carbon Capture

While DOE’s Fossil Energy Office leads the Department’s carbon capture portfolio, in 2020, AMO initiated first-ever investments in carbon capture technologies. In January 2021, as part of the massive multi-topic funding opportunity discussed above, AMO awarded $20 million for nine early-stage R&D projects to integrate carbon capture and direct air capture into industrial processes. Led primarily by universities, the projects will provide key insights from which DOE can shape future industrial carbon capture initiatives. Go deeper with this ClearPath Energy 101: Intro to Carbon Capture.

Regional Innovation Hubs

In the last three years, AMO has made substantial investments to expand the capabilities of key user facilities at the DOE National Laboratories. When provided a clear mission and directed to support activities the private sector would otherwise not conduct on its own, DOE’s user facilities can foster hubs of innovation and regional economic development, particularly in parts of the country that often struggle to compete for federal funding. Such facilities include the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, the Critical Materials Institute at Ames National Lab in Iowa, and the Materials Engineering Research Facility at Argonne National Lab in Illinois.

AMO Has Made Substantial Investments to Expand the Capabilities
of Facilities at the DOE National Laboratories

Most recently, AMO provided seed funding for a partnership between Youngstown State University (YSU) in Ohio and Oak Ridge National Lab to establish the Energy Storage Workforce Innovation Center at YSU. The training center will support battery manufacturing research and workforce needs in the “Voltage Valley” region of Northeast Ohio. Strategic infrastructure investments such as these can be leveraged to spur economic growth, attract private sector capital, and promote workforce development across the country.

As clean energy innovation continues to accelerate, America’s manufacturing competitiveness must be a top priority. Americans have seen too many industries and too much intellectual property shipped overseas. In emerging energy technologies, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create and sustain entirely new industries here in America. We can also reduce emissions by returning manufacturing to the U.S., where environmental standards are tougher than in China. But that won’t happen without a sharp focus. Fortunately, in the last few years, AMO has established unique capabilities and seeded new initiatives to position the U.S. for global leadership in advanced manufacturing. The clean energy industries of the future are being created today – the U.S. will either cede or lead.

Read the article on ClearPath here.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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