Obama’s Manufacturing Innovation Institutes: a win for clean tech jobs

Photo courtesy whitehouse.gov / Lawrence Jackson

Obama’s Manufacturing Innovation Institute supports technologies needed to revive US manufacturing by de-carbonizing it.

When I was a student at North Carolina State University, most of the campus where ABB’s offices are now located was a grassy field that was home to around 700 head of cattle. Today, it’s home to companies like ABB as well as the FREEDM Center, a leading research facility focusing on electric power systems.

On Wednesday, President Obama visited the campus to announce the creation of a new public-private Manufacturing Innovation Institute that will soon take up residence at NC State. Eighteen companies headquartered in North Carolina will partner with six universities and the federal government to strengthen US manufacturing.

Specifically, Obama pinpointed wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors as a key technology the institute will focus on. WBG semiconductors are used in variable speed drives, which regulate industrial motors. Those motors, in turn, consume nearly 25 percent of all electricity globally.

In the US alone, that adds up to around 970 billion kWh, or over half a billion barrels of oil equivalent. If industrial motors could use less energy, it would be money in the bank for manufacturers, allowing them to remain competitive.

“Western manufacturers need to adapt to a world where energy and transport costs continue to rise,” said ABB CEO, Ulrich Spiesshofer, in a recent interview with the Economist.

Particularly in the US, we’re at a point now where staying competitive in manufacturing requires using less energy per unit produced. In a recent ABB survey, 77 percent of manufacturers said energy efficiency would be a critical success factor for profitability in the next 20 years.

So, if the Manufacturing Innovation Institute succeeds, it could help to bolster national energy security while creating jobs by supporting the growth of US manufacturing. This based on what some are calling the next generation of semiconductors.

As I told Triangle BizBlog at the event, our parents grew up with transistors and we are used to semiconductors. This may be the technology for our kids’ generation.

That’s innovation to which we at ABB are proud to contribute.

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About the author

Allen Burchett

Allen Burchett is the Senior VP for Business Development for ABB in North America. In this role, he is focused on organic and inorganic strategic initiatives to enable ABB to achieve its future growth plans in North America. These initiatives span several market segments including Smart Grid, Wind, Solar, Energy Efficiency, Rail, US Federal Government and Datacenters. The leaders of these efforts report to Allen. He also leads our Strategic Initiatives Team for North America.
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