Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is pioneering the expansion of composite materials in additive manufacturing. Collaborating with industrial entities, ORNL focuses on enhancing production scalability and mitigating supply chain disruptions through AM. The laboratory explores the utilization of various composite materials—such as carbon fiber, ceramics, and biodegradable plastics—in producing lightweight, efficient components for diverse sectors, including automotive and aerospace.
The AM and materials research is specifically being conducted at the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Carbon Fiber Technology Facility to enhance the manufacturing capabilities of AM operators in the United States.
“ORNL has the only facilities in the country with a full ability to formulate, create, print and recycle composite materials,” said Vlastimil Kunc, Composites Science and Technology section leader at ORNL.
“The ability to go from raw materials to finished part and back to composite ingredients in a ‘cradle to cradle’ approach provides a complete lifespan view of composites. This method helps us to identify and develop the right sustainable-material feedstock and processes for unique 3D-print applications,”
The laboratory’s scientists are also refining digital tooling to streamline production processes. Their research spans several key areas, including:
- Innovating large-scale manufacturing techniques, where partnerships have led to breakthroughs like the BioHome3D, a fully biobased additively manufactured home.
- Enhancing composites for increased production speed, where the ORNL-developed AM compression molding technology has demonstrated a potential to expedite component fabrication while decreasing costs.
- Engineering materials for high-stress applications, such as space exploration, where ORNL collaborates with NASA to develop materials capable of withstanding extreme conditions.
- Promoting a circular economy, exemplified by recycling high-value thermoplastic materials for automotive applications, thus reducing costs and environmental footprint.
ORNL also spearheads the innovation of carbon fiber materials at its Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF), supporting clean energy applications and advancing U.S. manufacturing capabilities.
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