A new director has been hired at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Merlin Theodore most recently worked in Moses Lake, Washington, where she established a laboratory and promoted organizational excellence at a startup facility, SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber, ORNL said in a story published on its website in March. SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber is one of the largest carbon fiber production facilities in the United States, ORNL said.
While at SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber, Theodore boosted workflow efficiency by 97 percent and achieved 94 percent cost savings by developing new testing methods to determine sizing concentration on fiber surface, ORNL said. She also played an instrumental role in resolving technical issues for automaker BMW.
Theodore was the first in her family of 11 siblings to pursue graduate studies and then take up a career as a technology innovator. Her path eventually led her to ORNL, the lab said.
Before the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility and SGL Automotive Carbon Fiber, Theodore worked for Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Georgia Tech, and Universal Technology Corporation, or UTC, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as a research scientist and laboratory manager.
“Settling in East Tennessee is a bit like coming home for Theodore,” ORNL said. “She has family in Atlanta and Birmingham and spent most of her academic career at Alabama’s Tuskegee University, although she began her studies at a North Carolina junior college on a softball scholarship. She earned her B.S. in chemical engineering, M.S. in mechanical engineering, and her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at Tuskegee.”
Theodore credits her father for setting high expectations for her as she grew up on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, ORNL said. While she was the first to earn a graduate degree in her family, among her siblings you will now find several with degrees in technical fields, including a sister with a doctorate in integrative biosciences, two sisters with bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering, and a sister with a bachelor’s in computer science engineering.
“Theodore was expected to mentor her siblings as they sought their degrees, and she did—both directly and as a role model,” ORNL said in the story, which was written by Stephanie Seay.
That knack for mentoring manifested itself in Theodore’s career as she expanded an internship program at UTC and guided staff at SGL, ORNL said. She plans to continue helping young researchers with their career goals at ORNL. Theodore describes her new position at the lab as the “ultimate job.”
“It touches on all the areas I’ve been in, working in manufacturing, with the (Department of Defense), and in academia,” she said during an interview with Seay in February 2017. “The opportunities are endless here…Being able to reach out to all the individuals here with expertise in multiple areas. You just don’t have that in private industry—or you have to pay for it. Here it’s at your fingertips.”
ORNL said Theodore is eager to begin strategizing with different groups at ORNL and to continue advancing the CFTF mission as the nation’s only open-access, semi-production scale carbon fiber technology center.
“I want to get a full understanding of what the facility has to deliver as far as partnerships with industry, and I want to focus on the younger generation within the facility too, and how we can grow them as individuals,” Theodore said.
The 42,000-square-foot Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, or CFTF, is off Highway 95 (Oak Ridge Turnpike) in west Oak Ridge in Horizon Center. It has a 390-foot-long processing line, demonstrating advanced technology scalability and producing market-development volumes of prototypical carbon fibers as the last step before commercial production, ORNL said. Producing cheaper carbon fiber and carbon fiber-reinforced composite structures would be a “game-changer” for industries such as automotive, airlines, renewable energy, oil and gas, and other infrastructure, ORNL said.
The facility has a thermal (conventional) conversion line, with the capability of producing 25 tons per year of polyacrylonitrile (PAN)-based fiber, and it can convert both melt-spun and solution-spun precursors.
The CFTF also has a melt-spun precursor fiber production line, which can produce up to 65 tons per year of polyethylene fiber and also spin lignin and pitch-based precursors in either tow or web form. ORNL is currently developing advanced conversion technology based on microwave and plasma processing technologies for the CFTF.
The CFTF is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, or AMO, and Vehicle Technologies Office, or VTO. AMO supports applied research, development, and demonstration of new materials and processes for energy efficiency in manufacturing, as well as platform technologies for the manufacturing of clean energy products. VTO supports research and development of a broad range of lightweight materials technologies to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy.
Oak Ridge Today reported in March 2013, after the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility had been operating for about six weeks, that the carbon fiber material could be used for prototype parts in products ranging from cars and airplanes to wind turbine blades and natural gas tanks.
The $35 million facility was designed to “scale up” laboratory research on low-cost carbon fiber, make enough material to help industrial partners build prototype carbon-fiber composite parts, and develop a skilled manufacturing workforce.
Carbon fiber is strong and lightweight, but it is also expensive and that has limited its use. Officials hope to use the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility to change that. They want to make producing carbon fiber as cost-efficient as manufacturing steel or aluminum.
See our previous stories on carbon fiber and the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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