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VOL. 39 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 16, 2015

UT, Vanderbilt have roles in public/private auto partnership

By Sam Stockard

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Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer ES, watches as President Barack Obama examines a 3D-printed Shelby Cobra replica at Techmer PM, a plastic fabrication company in Clinton, where the president talked last week about efforts to create good-paying manufacturing jobs.

-- Ap Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The U.S. government also is showing its faith in Tennessee’s auto industry.

Last Friday, President Obama announced a $250 million manufacturing hub will be anchored at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, focusing on advanced materials, like polymer composites, which combine fiber with plastics to create products that are stronger and lighter than steel.

“These are materials that would be ideal for fuel-efficient cars, or longer wind turbine blades that produce more energy, or materials that might go into our aviation sector,” Obama said during a visit to Techmer PM, a maker of polymer modifiers, in Clinton.

Other members of the consortium include Boeing, Volkswagen, Ford, Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites will be made up of 122 companies, nonprofits and research institutions.

It’s the fifth of eight such hubs to be awarded in federal competitions. The U.S. Department of Energy will invest about $70 million, while the remaining $189 million will be supplied by partners in the consortium.

Matthias Erb, executive vice president of engineering and planning for Volkswagen Group of America, says the automaker has joined the consortium to work to “overcome current barriers to the use of advanced composite materials,” which include high production costs and that they are not easily recyclable.

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