Greg LeMond, cycling great, in new carbon fibre venture with Geelong's Deakin University
BY CAMERON BEST22 MINUTES AGO
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Greg LeMond (centre) riding in the 1989 Tour de France.
REUTERS: ERIC GAILLARD
American Greg LeMond is an innovator and businessman who just happened to win the world's most famous bike race — three times.
LeMond won the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1991 riding carbon fibre bikes, and pioneered the use of the strong, lightweight material in cycling.
But his latest venture with Victoria's Deakin University will develop new ways to dramatically cut the cost of carbon fibre production for a wide range of uses.
"I've been credited as being the most innovative cyclist in the sport, and I think that's totally an exaggeration, but what I have been is very curious," he said.
"I see opportunity where others ask, 'Why would you do that?' and I'm [saying], 'Well, why not?'."
In a $US44 million ($58 million) deal, LeMond Composites will license technology developed at Deakin's Geelong-based carbon fibre research centre, Carbon Nexus.
Lower costs could lead to new applications for carbon fibre
The new technology, developed by PhD student Maxime Maghe and Carbon Nexus general manager Steve Atkiss, can significantly lower the cost of producing carbon fibre, which had barely changed in the years since LeMond's Tour victories.
"Carbon fibre, up until recently, has been a dream material for automotive and for so many different industries but the cost has been prohibitive," LeMond said.
"They've been able to develop a manufacturing process that lowers the capital cost and allows us to scale the growth of it, because I think demand is going to be significant."
LeMond's start-up company struck an agreement with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee last year, with plans to produce millions of kilograms of low-cost industrial grade carbon fibre for the world market.
However, that venture hit a snag just months later when LeMond Composites fired its chief executive, Connie Jackson, who led the team developing the manufacturing process.
LeMond said those matters were settled in March and would not hinder the new deal with Deakin.
For its part, the university has stepped carefully in entering a contract to license its intellectual property to the US-based company.
"Geelong's been through a difficult time. Many people see the future of Geelong wrapped around the knowledge economy and what the university can do," Deakin vice chancellor Jane Den Hollander said.
"We have been extraordinarily careful on this basis.
"This new technology could revolutionise the advanced manufacturing sector locally, across Australia and around the globe, because it will make carbon fibre more affordable to produce, which will make it more accessible for consumers."
The deal could also pave the way for LeMond's company to build a carbon fibre manufacturing plant in Geelong to work in tandem with the Oak Ridge operation.
"We would plan on having multiple lines here," LeMond said.
The company plans to start production in September.