Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond is opening a carbon fiber manufacturing site in East Tennessee.
LeMond won the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1990. He came to East Tennessee about a year-and-a-half ago on a quest to innovate bicycle manufacturing.
LeMond toured Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Carbon Fiber Technology Center, and the new technology developments in carbon fiber manufacturing caught his attention.
Connie Jackson, the inventor behind ORNL's new carbon fiber technology and CEO of LeMond Companies, said the lab was on a mission to find a way to facilitate the use of lightweight materials in automotive applications, as well as in renewable energy sources.
Jackson began working with carbon fiber to find a solution. Historically, she said, carbon fiber was too expensive for widespread use and could only be produced in small volumes.
Carbon fiber is a reinforcing material for plastics. In that reinforcement, it can convert a plastic into a similar or better mechanical performing material than a metal.
After years of work, Jackson designed a process that could produce high volumes of carbon fiber at a lower cost, and then the product was ready to take to the market.
"The technology at that point was quite mature, and ready for commercialization so it made sense that we would partner together," she said.
LeMond and Jackson are working together at LeMond Composites to bring the high-volume, low-cost carbon fiber into real-life applications.
Their targets when the company starts production are the automotive industry and wind energy, but LeMond hinted that it would eventually include development of bicycle components.
"I think it's an industry game changer," LeMond said. "I mean, I think we could have a company that is the leader in carbon fiber in the world."
It's a partnership and plan the city of Oak Ridge fully supports.
"This is really that first production facility on American soil that can create good, American jobs and development around here," said Mark Watson, city manager of Oak Ridge.
LeMond said the company will be manufacturing carbon fiber in 2018.
"I've had some exciting stuff in my past, but this is really, really... it's right up there," LeMond said.