When we tell the story of our clean energy future, technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles take center stage. These technologies will be crucial to producing 100% clean electricity by 2035 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But to tell the full story, it’s important to go back to where it all begins – within America’s manufacturing sector and the supply chains that support it.
U.S. manufacturing is the heartbeat of our nation’s clean energy future. It pumps life into our economy, creating thousands of jobs while moving materials through intricate supply chains to manufacture clean energy technologies.
To achieve a clean energy future that is made in America, we must strengthen and secure these domestic manufacturing supply chains. As part of a DOE-wide supply chain analysis for the energy sector industrial base for Executive Order 14017, “America’s Supply Chains,” the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) released three deep dive assessments. These assessments explore challenges and opportunities to build U.S. supply chains for clean energy technologies, including rare earth magnets for electric vehicles and wind energy, energy efficient semiconductors and power electronics, and platinum group metal catalysts for fuel cells and water electrolysis.
The supply chains for these critical technologies are often concentrated in a single country. Even where the U.S. has significant resources and production capacities, downstream domestic refining and manufacturing is often lacking. To secure domestic manufacturing and American competitiveness in these sectors, AMO supports RD&D and workforce development throughout multiple stages of these supply chains. In the deep dive assessments, AMO highlights key supply chain bottlenecks and opportunities for the nation to lead the global clean energy economy.
Rare earth permanent magnets are critical components of clean energy technologies including wind turbines and electric vehicles. Despite their growing global demand, the U.S. currently relies primarily on foreign supply chains for rare earth magnets. AMO’s new assessment presents opportunities to strengthen domestic supply chains, drawing on our nation’s wealth of rare earth resources and technical know-how.
To build a domestic secure supply chain for rare earth magnets, AMO’s assessment found that the U.S. can strengthen the market through increased public-private partnerships, catalyze innovation in rare earth magnet manufacturing, and provide tax credits and other incentives to encourage capacity expansion.
AMO remains committed to establishing domestic capacity for these important components. Through the Critical Materials Institute (CMI), an Energy innovation hub supported by AMO and led by Ames National Laboratory, AMO is fostering public-private partnerships to eliminate and reduce international reliance on rare earth metals and other materials critical to the success of clean energy technologies.
CMI scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory recently developed a novel technology to cost-effectively separate rare-earth elements – a critical step in the rare earth magnet supply chain that currently occurs overseas. In a broader sense, CMI continues to create innovative solutions to supply chain challenges through their cutting-edge research, which has garnered six R&D 100 Awards since the hub’s creation in 2013. Their most recent award was for innovative development of Samarium Cobalt magnets.
Semiconductors are essential for the operation of every electronic device, including those critical to a clean energy economy. Of the three types of semiconductors identified in the report, conventional semiconductors bring our world online with communication devices, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, used in power electronics, are crucial for power management circuits that integrate renewable energy into tomorrow’s more distributed electric grids, electrified transport, and industrial efficiency and control applications.
While the U.S. invented and historically dominated the global semiconductor market, its dominance in manufacturing has shrunk in recent decades. Furthermore, as world demand for semiconductors grows along with the demand for clean energy, their use is driving what will soon become an unsustainable demand for energy and associated growth in carbon emissions. AMO’s new assessment found that the U.S. has an opportunity to develop ultra-energy efficient conventional semiconductors with increased performance and a lower carbon footprint. Additionally, investments in WBG semiconductor manufacturing technologies point the way to a more efficient, strong, and secure domestic power electronics industrial base that will support electrification of a range of technologies.
AMO is committed to driving the research and development that our nation needs to increase domestic manufacturing for high-efficiency semiconductors. With this report, we are planting a flag as a global leader in ultra-energy efficient electronics. In 2021, AMO convened stakeholders from across America’s manufacturing and innovation ecosystems to identify pathways for manufacturing energy efficient semiconductors. These workshops focused on numerous aspects of the semiconductor supply chain, including integrated sensor systems and ultra-high-efficiency devices.
AMO is also driving innovation to secure the domestic WBG semiconductor supply chain. Through PowerAmerica, a public-private partnership within Manufacturing USA, AMO supports domestic manufacturing of WBG semiconductors that can operate at higher temperatures, frequencies, and voltages needed for clean energy deployment.
Catalysts based on platinum group metal (PGMs) have a variety of applications such as automotive catalytic converters and petroleum refining. They are also central to emerging decarbonization technologies such as water electrolyzers for green hydrogen production, fuel cells for vehicles and stationary energy storage, and the electrochemical manufacturing of chemicals.
As we strive to confront the climate crisis, the demand for PGM catalysts is expected to rapidly grow. AMO’s assessment found that, to secure the supply chains for clean energy technologies, as well as green hydrogen and chemical manufacturing, the U.S. has an opportunity to invest in its domestic resources and in innovations in PGM substitutions, material efficiency, and recycling.
Through the Dynamic Catalysts Science Program, AMO is investing in next-generation catalysts and catalytic reactors that efficiently produce high-volume, energy-intensive chemicals. AMO has made a $19 million investment in seven projects that use PGMs as catalysts to efficiently produce ammonia, ethylene, benzene, and hydrogen through thermal and electrochemical processes.
One of these projects, led by Forge Nano, is working to develop Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) technology that can reduce PGM loading while producing the same targeted chemical product yield.
Tomorrow’s Clean Energy Economy
The narrative of our clean energy transition is complex and multi-faceted, involving global, interconnected supply chains, disparate technologies and resources, and geopolitical actors and events. American manufacturing strength is the common thread that will weave together and connect the ideas, technologies, resources, and workforces to achieve our clean energy future. Secure supply chains are the foundation of this narrative, and the United States has an opportunity to build this integral foundation for tomorrow’s clean energy economy.