June 3, 2021 – A U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office competition offers entrepreneurs up to $4.5 million in prizes for development of next-generation affordable conductors. It is part of DOE’s Conductivity-enhanced materials for Affordable, Breakthrough Leapfrog Electric applications (CABLE) Conductor Manufacturing initiative. Below, WJI poses questions to DOE’s Dr. Tina Kaarsberg, who leads the CABLE initiative. For eligibility, deadlines and more details go to www.americanmadechallenges.org/cable.
WJI: What is the contest about?
TK: DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office seeks entries in three categories: (1) metal enhanced with nanocarbon metals that also contain carbon nanotubes, single- or few-layer graphene, doped or undoped, or other carbon allotropes; (2) metal enhanced without nanocarbon, either by processing innovations and/or by adding other metals or non-nanocarbon compounds; and (3) nonmetal, enhanced with metal, which are conductors that are primarily nonmetal (e.g., polymer or nanocarbon) but may also contain metal, such as nanoparticles of metallic elements, but no bulk metal components. The goal is to strengthen American leadership in energy innovation and domestic manufacturing.
WJI: How does this work?
TK: There are three progressive stages to rapidly transition new materials from the lab to the marketplace. Stage 1 seeks concepts to develop and manufacture conductors with an electric conductivity that is an unprecedented 10% (over 65 MS/m) larger than today’s best copper-based conductor, or a conductivity by density that is nearly 5% larger (over 14 kS m2/kg) larger than today’s best aluminum-based conductors. Stage 2 will then test lab-scale samples for electrical conductivity. Finally, Stage 3 will evaluate manufacturing-scale samples for conductivity and other properties, and examine the documented manufacturing process, scale-up plans, and cost.
WJI: Who can enter?
TK: Any company or individual with the desire and drive to transform an idea into an impactful conductor material. It can be individuals of one or multiple organizations, students, academics, small business owners, researchers, etc. Competitors must be legal U.S. residents.
WJI: How do the prizes work?
TK: For the CABLE Prize, DOE may award up to 10 competitors in Stage 1, each team receiving a $25,000 cash award and a stipend for third-party testing. In Stage 2, up to six competitors will each win $200,000 in cash awards and a $100,000 noncash voucher that will support future work in Stage 3, when teams will collaborate with a DOE national laboratory or another American-Made Challenges Network provider. Up to four winners will be selected at the end of Stage 3, and a total prize pool of at least $2,000,000.
WJI: Why is this being done?
TK: Conductivity-enhanced materials are urgently needed to help make a more equitable, clean-energy future by enabling the grid expansion needed to deliver cleaner, lower-impact, and more affordable electricity across our nation. Conductivity-enhanced materials will also lower the cost and impact of electrifying the entire economy (e.g., with motors, heat pumps, chargers) to enable a zero-carbon economy by 2050. The CABLE Prize aims to identify, verify, and reward new materials and manufacturing methods that achieve significant enhancements in electrical conductivity. The impact of these materials goes beyond just American infrastructure, but a global landscape transitioning to a greener, more energy-efficient tomorrow. For more details, visit www.americanmadechallenges.org/cable.
WJI: Is it fair to say that you are seeking “out of the box” thinking?
TK: Yes, we encourage out-of-the-box thinking because many have thought significant enhancements in conductivity would be impossible until very recently. We’re encouraging problem solvers across the U.S. to tap into the vast potential of conductivity-enhanced materials for clean energy applications. Our hope is that innovators will experiment with the amazing properties of materials—including carbon—at the nanoscale, and partner with advanced manufacturers to fabricate materials at larger scales. Ultimately, our priorities are to encourage a more diverse set of innovators empowered to make clean energy more accessible and affordable, and spur the transition to a sustainable and equitable clean energy economy.