BMW To Triple Carbon Fiber Production In Response To High Demand For BMW i3 And BMW i8


SGL Facility

SGL Facility

BMW, together with joint venture partner SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, has announced that due to unexpectedly high demand for the BMW i3 and BMW i8, production of carbon fiber at SGL’s facility in Moses Lake, Washington will be tripled.

Here are some highlights from the announcement:

  • Additional investment of 200 million US dollars
  • Medium-term capacity of 9,000 tons per year
  • Moses Lake to become the world’s largest carbon fiber plant
  • Workforce in Moses Lake to be stepped up to 200

The task of equipping the facility for the tripling of production should be completed by early 2015.

It should be noted that not all of the carbon fiber produced in Moses Lake will be for the i3 and i8.  BMW notes that its M line used carbon fiber for minor components such as hoods and says that the upcoming BMW 7 Series will make extensive use of carbon fiber.

Of interest too is this statement from BMW:

“At present, the Moses Lake plant operates two production lines, exclusively for BMW i, with an annual output of approx. 3,000 tons of carbon fiber. Already this summer, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers will commission a third and fourth production line in Moses Lake, which are currently being built, thus doubling the plant’s capacity to 6,000 tons per year. Today’s groundbreaking ceremony for a fifth and sixth production line has been the first step toward tripling capacities to 9,000 tons annually in the medium term. The energy needed for the carbon fiber production is fully generated from hydropower.”

Full press release below:

Munich / Wiesbaden / Moses Lake. Due to the high demand for carbon fiber in automotive production,  is going to triple the capacity of the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, WA (USA). This has been announced today by the joint venture partners, SGL Group and BMW Group, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the planned site expansion. The expansion will be funded by an investment of 200 million US dollars, in addition to the previously invested 100 million US dollars. The site expansion, scheduled to be completed by early 2015, will make the plant in Moses Lake the world’s largest carbon fiber plant. With the anticipated creation of 120 new jobs, the headcount at the joint venture in Moses Lake is going to rise from currently 80 to about 200 people. Due to the automated production processes, the expansion of the site in Moses Lake will make it possible for the BMW Group to apply carbon fiber material also in other model series in the future, at competitive costs and in large quantities.

At present, the Moses Lake plant operates two production lines, exclusively for BMW i, with an annual output of approx. 3,000 tons of carbon fiber. Already this summer, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers will commission a third and fourth production line in Moses Lake, which are currently being built, thus doubling the plant’s capacity to 6,000 tons per year. Today’s groundbreaking ceremony for a fifth and sixth production line has been the first step toward tripling capacities to 9,000 tons annually in the medium term. The energy needed for the carbon fiber production is fully generated from hydropower.

“With its highly automated carbon fiber production and stringent quality standards, Moses Lake is setting new standards in the industry. At present, the site is the world’s fastest growing carbon fiber producer. Together with the BMW Group, we are doing pioneering work to establish CFRP as a material in large-series automotive production. In a mix of materials, CFRP offers new opportunities in lightweight construction for an eco-friendly mobility,” explained Dr. Jürgen Köhler, CEO of SGL Group.

Dr. Klaus Draeger, Board Member Purchasing and Supplier Network at BMW AG: “CFRP is a key material for the automotive industry of the 21st century. In our endeavor to identify increasingly lightweight materials in order to reduce a vehicle’s weight and thus its fuel consumption and carbon emissions, this material plays a crucial role. As part of an intelligent mix of materials, we will apply carbon also beyond our BMW i and BMW M models in the future. Thanks to the pooling of the SGL Group’s expertise and our knowledge in large-series production of CFRP components, we will be able to produce the ultra-lightweight high-tech material also for other model series, at competitive costs and in large quantities.”

The carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake is a key element in the strategy pursued by the two companies, which anticipates the industrialized large-series production of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for the application in future vehicle concepts. Up to now, carbon fiber produced in Moses Lake is exclusively used for the BMW i models. Since the start of the year, the Leipzig plant has built over 5,000 BMW i3 vehicles. At present, the production output stands at 100 units a day. Furthermore, the BMW Group has been applying the ultra-lightweight high-tech material also in its BMW M models for the past ten years.

Andreas Wüllner, CEO of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers: “In the course of only four years, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers has managed to become the world’s largest carbon fiber production site. The automotive industry will increasingly turn to CFRP because it is a material of the future.”

Availability of renewable energy crucial in the decision for the location in Moses Lake
As part of their joint venture agreement, the BMW Group and the SGL Group invested an initial 100 million dollars at their Moses Lake site by 2013, creating 80 new jobs. Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State: “Congratulations to the BMW Group and the SGL Group on the groundbreaking of their fifth and sixth production line at the Moses Lake Plant. Washington State is proud to partner with BMW. The game-changing technology of carbon fiber is driving a surge in U.S. manufacturing, and with this production plant Washington State is at the forefront of that surge.”

The production of carbon fiber requires a great amount of energy. Accordingly, decisive factors for the set up of the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake included the availability of renewable hydropower as well as competitive energy costs in Washington State. The availability of skilled workers also had an influence on the decision in favor of the location, which was taken in April 2010. The groundbreaking ceremony for the plant was in July 2010, the opening of the production site in September 2011. Dr. Jörg Pohlman, CEO of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers: “We received great support from the regional authorities in Grant County and Moses Lake, a decisive element in making this rapid development of the past few years possible. With the site expansion, we are reaching an important milestone in safeguarding the site’s future.”

Production of carbon fiber composites

The production of carbon fiber composites for automotive manufacturing requires several process steps: The necessary precursor, which is based on polyacrylnitrile fiber, is made by a joint venture between SGL Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon in Otake, Japan. In a next step, polyacrylnitrile fiber is turned into the actual carbon fiber in Moses Lake. This material is then processed at the second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany, and turned into textile carbon fiber layers, the starting point for the production of CFRP body parts at the BMW plants in Landshut and Leipzig. In the BMW i models, CFRP already holds a significant share in the mix of materials, a first at this scope and in series production. The joint venture gives the BMW Group access to this innovative key material in the long term. The SGL Group provides their expertise in high-performance materials and their experience with carbon fiber-based materials.

SGL Group – The Carbon Company

SGL Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of carbon-based products and materials. It has a comprehensive portfolio ranging from carbon and graphite products to carbon fibers and composites. Products from SGL Group are used predominantly in the steel, aluminum, automotive and chemical industries as well as in the semiconductor, solar and LED sectors and in lithium-ion batteries. Carbon-based materials and products are also being used increasingly in the wind power, aerospace and defense industries.

With 44 production sites in Europe, North America and Asia as well as a service network covering more than 100 countries, SGL Group is a company with a global presence. In 2013, the Company’s workforce of around 6,300 employees generated sales of €1,477 million. The Company’s head office is located in Wiesbaden.

SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers

SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers (ACF), a joint venture between the BMW Group and SGL Group was founded in 2009 for the exclusive supply of carbon fiber materials to the BMW Group. SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers is setting new standards with their sustainable and cost-effective production and positioning the BMW Group to be the first automotive manufacturer to use carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in series production. The carbon fiber materials, which are used in the passenger compartment of the BMW i models, will allow an entirely new vehicle designs. SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers expertise means that the vehicles will be significantly lighter while ensuring the highest safety. SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers has two production sites. In Moses Lake, WA/ USA carbon fibers spools are produced that are processed into fabrics at the second production site in Wackersdorf/ Germany. Moses Lake has a workforce of 80 employees and Wackersdorf a workforce of 150 employees.

The BMW Group

The BMW Group is the leading premium manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles in the world with its BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce brands. As a global company, the BMW Group operates 28 production and assembly facilities in 13 countries and has a global sales network in more than 140 countries.

In 2013, the BMW Group sold approximately 1.963 million cars and 115,215 motorcycles worldwide. The profit before tax for the financial year 2013 was € 7.91 billion on revenues amounting to approximately € 76.06 billion. As of 31 December 2013, the BMW Group had a workforce of 110,351 employees.

The success of the BMW Group has always been based on long-term thinking and responsible action. The company has therefore established ecological and social sustainability throughout the value chain, comprehensive product responsibility and a clear commitment to conserving resources as an integral part of its strategy.

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23 Comments on "BMW To Triple Carbon Fiber Production In Response To High Demand For BMW i3 And BMW i8"

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I keep hearing some websites reporting there is no demand for the i3, while others report high demand. Which is it? And is it even possible to really say for sure this early in the game? It just went on sale here in the USA. Nissan had really high demand for the Leaf at first too. They couldn’t make enough. But once all of the early adopters got theirs, demand fell off sharply.

I suspect that they set extremely pessimistic sales projections so they could have these nice marketing stories about “Demand vastly outstrips projections”. It is not like they are selling tens of thousands of these cars.

And I agree that you are correct to say it is much too early to tell. But I sure hope they sell many many thousands of them.

And if they put this drivetrain in a Z3 like body . . . I’d buy one.

If ever there was a BMW series that needed to be “lightened up”. it would be the prestigious 7 series LOL.

What is the all electric range of the I3 REX? I never have figured that out.

72 miles electric and 39 MPG for the range extender.

OK, I thought I heard it would only do 10 or 12 miles before the generator kicked in and then run the rest of its 186 or so miles with the generator running.

No, that’s incorrect. Also, there are 5 miles of EPA EV range left once the generator stops running after it ran out of gas. The total electric range is 77 miles EPA.

Most people have heard of the strength and lightweight properties of CF, but I would like to know if CFRP is easily recycled when it is beyond repair or simply at the end of its current use? Steel and aluminum can be melted down. Will it be cost prohibited to recycle CFRP and end up in landfills, never to be degraded or is it a great candidate for recycling? When can we expect crash test results on the I3 & I8?

You bring up a good point.
My guess is that it would be hard to impossible to recycle. but I’m just guessing.

That’s a cool article, but it’s several years old (April 2009)…by now, the “new” project the research groups were starting would be over. The results would be fascinating…

As long as it doesn’t have toxic compounds that will leech out, I don’t really care if it ends up in landfills. The plastic will eventually be eaten by microbes and turned to natural gas that can be captured. The carbon fiber will be safely sequestered in the ground where it belongs.

But if they can figure out a way to efficiently recycle it, that would be even better.

IMO it is better to turn heavy crude and tar into carbon fiber for an electric car than turn it into petrol for a metal car. BMW have worked hard on promoting how little CO2 emissions it takes to make and run the i series cars….. I suppose if you bury 500kg of carbon encased in carbon fiber panels you may even be able to get carbon negative.

It’s a carbon fibre gigafactory!…. Well at least a mega factory.

It is interesting to note the numbers suggest that at full expansion (9kt/yr) this factory would support production of just over 100,000 vehicles a year. To put that in perspective, 100,000 is less than 1% of total North American vehicle sales.

Shows how big the automotive supply chain is and how significant an impact new materials and components will have. Even at full output, a Tesla battery gigafactory can only supply a few percent of vehicle sales. If a new gigafactory was built every year, electrification of the North American auto fleet would take the better part of a century.

That is why all available options need to be implemented. Better fuel efficiency, EV’s, PHEV’s, biofuels, better public transport etc. etc.

You have to start somewhere. 100k PEVs would represent 5% of BMW Groups total annual sales.

This a very good sign maybe they are getting the martial production ready when they double the size of the EV battery. Also after seeing the car in real life it is a very nice car and would love to own one. But another thing going for this car is the Rex option in that I think a lot of people in the general public would like this. So I could picture them selling 50,000 of them in a year.

“The production of carbon fiber requires a great amount of energy”

As does aluminum. Its interesting that this materials revolution, if it goes forth, applies to all cars equally, EVs, gas and hybrids. As mentioned, CF has other concerns, but this is a great trend. Lighter cars with the same durability.

If you read the trade press, you also know that the steel makers have responded with a new class of lighter and stronger steel sheet, so that even conventionally made cars are getting better.

I’d be even more enthusiastic if some of this would help make better, lighter, faster cheaper and even EV airplanes. Alas, that industry is dying a slow death.

And then it gets shipped to Europe, made in to a car, and shipped back. How many tons of petrol are used for that per year?

I assume the carbon fiber is made in the US because that it where they source the carbon, it is then shipped to Germany to be turned into a car to be sold globally. Better than shipping Australian coal and iron ore to South Korea or India to be turned into steel to be sent to Germany.

It’s not better, it is much, much worse. Production of 1 kg of CFRP results in ~20 kg of CO2e. 1 kg of steel about 2 kg CO2e. You can certainly use less CFRP to make the same part, and you do save energy in the use phase, but you never make up for the energy you spend on the CFRP production.
This is even more true for a BEV, which is already a pretty efficient vehicle, and uses regenerative braking, which further lessens the impact of reducing the mass.

They make the carbon fiber in Moses Lake because they can utilize hydro power

Where they make it is not as significant as you think. For every MJ of hydro energy that they use, they force the other people on that grid to buy a MJ from somewhere else, so the net effect is that their emissions are only as good as the emissions of the grid, not as good as the hydro alone. And, since the grids are interconnected, it is not even as good as just the local grid, but more like a regional average.