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ORNL, DOE unveil new capabilities for advanced manufacturing recycling and autonomous vehicles

From left, Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, joined ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia and ORNL's Jeff Nichols to visit the Summit supercomputer, followed by a tour of new advanced manufacturing recycling and autonomous vehicle capabilities. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Department of Energy officials dedicated the launch of two clean energy research initiatives that focus on the recycling and recovery of advanced manufacturing materials and on connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

Daniel R Simmons, DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, joined Moe Khaleel, ORNL’s deputy for projects, for ribbon cutting events at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and the National Transportation Research Center.

“The manufacturing and transportation sectors are key to America’s economic health,” said Simmons. “The expansion of the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and the new Connected and Automated Vehicle Environment lab at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will propel American energy innovation through advances in energy-efficient recycling technologies that can reduce plastic waste and more efficient, cost-effective transportation systems including connected and automated vehicles.” 

“We are proud to unveil these exciting new capabilities for our DOE user facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia. “By collaborating with partners from the private and public sector, we can push the boundaries of what’s possible for reusable materials and intelligent, connected electric vehicles, quickly moving technologies to the marketplace where they can have the greatest societal impact.”

New capabilities in materials recycling and recovery research at ORNL focus on turning excess plastics, resins and fibers produced from advanced manufacturing processes into reusable materials. ORNL will work with industry to develop technologies that address this challenge by converting one-time single use thermoplastics into materials that can be fed into other manufacturing processes used to produce automobile parts, for example. New techniques in compounding, shredding and sorting will be explored as well as material classification and separation and thermal decomposition.

Scientists will focus on material waste produced from large-scale additive manufacturing, injection molding, compression molding, sheet molding compounding, thermoset additive manufacturing and prepreg molding. Existing compounding and textile tools will be adapted and equipment modifications in shredding and pelletizing will be made to produce optimized feedstocks conducive to recycling.

The recycling and recovery of advanced manufacturing materials research is conducted at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, DOE’s only designated user facility focused on performing early-stage research and development in advanced manufacturing.

The new Connected and Automated Vehicle Environment, or CAVE, Laboratory at ORNL offers a unique proving ground to evaluate intelligent mobility solutions using real-world hardware and data in virtual traffic conditions. This integrated virtual and physical environment enhances scientists’ ability to accurately verify the large-scale energy benefits and emissions impacts of connected and automated vehicles and other advanced transportation technologies.

CAVE’s test bed creates a virtual approximation of physical assets fed by real-world hardware and data, also known as a digital twin. This digital twin, populated either automatically using artificial intelligence, or manually, allows scientists to study and model physical systems and how they will respond under different scenarios. The capability supports the development of hardware, control strategies and algorithms for intelligent vehicle technologies, central traffic controllers, and infrastructure controls in a safe laboratory setting.

CAVE incorporates North America’s first steerable hub dynamometer to measure torque and power on physical vehicle systems. The lab also uses ORNL-developed testing systems such as sensor emulation that mimics the signals vehicles receive through radar, cameras and other connected vehicle systems; hardware-in-the-loop technology that evaluates physical components in simulated traffic and environmental scenarios; and vehicle dynamics analysis. The platform is designed to link laboratories across the country to CAVE’s real-time, high-fidelity traffic simulations while subjecting actual powertrains to these scenarios using vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. 

The CAVE Laboratory is part of the National Transportation Research Center, DOE’s only designated user facility focused on performing early-stage research and development in transportation technologies.

The new composites recycling capabilities are supported through EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, and the CAVE Laboratory’s connected and automated vehicle research is supported by EERE’s Vehicle Technologies Office and by ORNL investments.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit – Jennifer Burke and Stephanie Seay