A new company co-founded by Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion, will make composite bicycles and carbon fiber for other products in Oak Ridge, and the business, called LeMond Composites, will invest $125 million and create 242 new jobs, officials said during a Wednesday afternoon ceremony.
Among the officials celebrating the opening on Wednesday were LeMond, and Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd.
Carbon fiber has advantageous properties, but cost has been a barrier to using it, said Connie Jackson, chief executive officer of LeMond Composites. She said the manufacturing process has been changed to reduce production cost.
“We have overcome a significant part of the cost barrier,” Jackson said.
Carbon fiber is light, stiff, and strong, making it the perfect material for advanced composites in a variety of applications. It can be used to improve efficiency, save energy, and build or repair vehicles and planes, wind turbines and containers, and bridges and tunnels.
Jackson and a research team at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility have invented a breakthrough process that will reduce production costs by more than 50 percent compared to the lowest-cost industrial-grade carbon fiber, LeMond Composites said in an August press release.
“Incredibly, this new carbon fiber has the mechanical properties of carbon fiber costing three times as much,” the release said. “Until now, manufacturing carbon fiber was an extremely energy-intensive process. This new method reduces energy consumed during production by up to 60 percent.”
It’s the most significant development in carbon fiber production in more than 50 years, the company said.
Officials called the new carbon fiber “industry disrupting” for the transportation, renewable energy, and infrastructure markets. LeMond Composites will be the first company to offer it.
“This new carbon fiber has the mechanical properties of carbon fiber, but costs significantly less,” Tennessee officials said in a press release on Wednesday. “Until now, manufacturing carbon fiber was an extremely energy-intensive process. This new method greatly reduces energy consumed during production.”
LeMond Composites plans to break ground on its new facility in January 2017. The first commercially available product will be ready in the first quarter of 2018.
The company would make the first mass-produced carbon fiber bicycle in the United States.
Tennessee officials said LeMond Composites will invest $125 million, building its first carbon fiber production line at 103 Palladium Way at Heritage Center in west Oak Ridge. That’s the former Theragenics building, and it’s located next to Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. That building will be used and expanded, Jackson said.
LeMond Composites closed on the former Theragenics property, which includes about 21 acres, on July 21 for $5.4 million.
Two hundred forty-two new jobs will be created in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge, officials said. The jobs and investment are expected over a five-year period.
LeMond has previously said the Oak Ridge and Knoxville area will become the world hub for carbon fiber.
Jackson said the carbon fiber manufacturing changes were discovered and refined at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, where she worked for four years; patented by ORNL; and licensed by LeMond Composites. Some key staff members, about 20 people, have already been hired, Jackson said. The majority of people who are hired will go through a training program at Roane State Community College.
Jackson and several of her ORNL teammates joined the company this year.
LeMond and Nicolas Wegener, chief operating officer of LeMond Composites, visited Oak Ridge in the spring of 2015 to figure out how to make a cheaper, lighter bicycle. Since then, LeMond and others have seen the potential to expand the potential uses of carbon fiber.
“We can provide the advantages of our carbon fiber to many industries by improving strength, stiffness, and weight reduction,” Jackson said. “If you imagine replacing steel, aluminum, and fiberglass with our carbon fiber, you can begin to understand the scope of the potential market. Our process will have global applications and we are ready to move forward with scaling the technology.”
LeMond Composites was founded in 2016, and it is focused on the manufacture of high-volume, low-cost carbon fiber composites that could be used in transportation, renewable energy, and infrastructure. The company was co-founded by Jackson, LeMond, and Wegener. LeMond is chairman and co-CEO of LeMond Companies, which owns LeMond Composites.
“LeMond Composites’ new carbon fiber technology, licensed from ORNL, has the potential to transform the automotive and aerospace industries as well as renewable energy and infrastructure markets,” Boyd said. “This decision to invest in Tennessee underscores the incredible resources ORNL has to offer companies looking to tap into one of the world’s top research centers, and one that is constantly on the cutting edge of new scientific and technological breakthroughs. On behalf of Team Tennessee, I’d like to thank LeMond Composites for its investment and commitment to create nearly 250 new jobs in Roane County.”
Boyd said there are state incentives, but they haven’t been announced yet because attorneys are still working out the details.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said the partnership between LeMond and ORNL will only strengthen Tennessee’s world-renowned reputation for manufacturing advanced, innovative products.
“LeMond Composites’ decision to invest in Tennessee brings us another step closer toward of goal of being the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs,” Haslam said.
Officials said the breakthrough process invented by Jackson and a research team at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility will significantly reduce production costs relative to the lowest cost of industrial-grade carbon fiber.
“We have assembled the only team in the world that has executed this proven technology that uniquely positions us to deliver a successful outcome for our customers and stakeholders,” LeMond said. “From our experience, I know that having the right team is a distinct business advantage.”
Thomas Zacharia, ORNL deputy director for science and technology, said the successful transition of this technology to the private sector demonstrates the U.S. Department of Energy’s commitment to “invest in scientific research and development to address the nation’s energy challenges and deliver solutions to the marketplace.”
Oak Ridge and Roane County officials and the Tennessee Valley Authority also expressed support for the new company.
“On behalf of the city of Oak Ridge, I am extremely pleased to support their announcement of a licensing agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and their development of our first major manufacturing facility dedicated to the production of carbon fiber,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said. “Although LeMond Industries is widely known for their use of carbon fiber in the bicycle industry, we know that the innovation possibilities of this material are limitless and will be marked in the future with a ‘Made in Oak Ridge, Tennessee’ name.”
“Roane County is excited for another successful project announcement in our community,” Roane County Executive Ron Woody said. “We anticipate LeMond Composites being the first of many projects recognizing the multiple amenities Roane County and the region has to offer. Being one of the premier national labs, the Oak Ridge National Lab operated by UT Battelle is truly an anchor in which new technologies and businesses will be developed. We welcome LeMond Composites to our family of new and upcoming technologies and businesses and we stand ready to assist in their new business venture.”
“TVA and Oak Ridge Electric Department congratulate LeMond Composites on its decision to locate in Oak Ridge, Tennessee,” said TVA Senior Vice President John Bradley. “Helping to foster new, quality job creation in the Valley is at the core of TVA’s mission of service. We are proud to partner with the city of Oak Ridge, the Roane Alliance, and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to help further that mission.”
ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility began operating in 2012, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies offices, to demonstrate the possibility of low-cost carbon fiber at a semi-production scale, the release said.
This summer, officials said the growing demand from the automotive industry is due in large part to the global push to increase the fuel economy of nearly every vehicle produced, and the single best way to improve fuel economy is to reduce the weight of the cars and their component parts.
“We understand the growing demand from the automotive industry, and we are currently in negotiations with several of the world’s leading automotive brands and their suppliers,” LeMond said.
For the wind power industry, carbon fiber can be used to make turbine blades lighter and stiffer, thereby increasing efficiency. Previously, carbon fiber was too expensive for maximum use in this market.
Other sectors, including shipping, air travel, and marine, could see significant energy savings through the use of carbon fiber in the light weighting of their containers, planes, and ships, officials said.
Carbon fiber composites can also be used to build, reinforce, or repair bridges, tunnels, and commercial and residential structures.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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