Blog: Dave LeggettBMW's use of Carbon-Fibre Reinforced Plastic

Dave Leggett | 1 August 2011

One interesting aspect to BMW's plans for lightweight construction on its i-brand vehicles is the extensive use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP). It will be something to keep an eye on, not least because this is taking the use of CFRP into higher volume territory.

BMW has set up a joint venture facility with a carbon-fibre specialist to make the parts at a place called Moses Lake in Washington State. Hang on, I hear you ask, that's a long way from Leipzig where the i vehicles will be assembled. How does that transportation requirement square with 'sustainability'?

Well, it's not quite that simple. First, the CFRP is very energy intensive in production so the production process is a bigger part of the gross energy use than transport to the plant of final assembly. And second, the electrical energy needed for that production in Washington will be coming from local hydro-electric-plants - so that's more credits for sustainability. And then, I guess, we can add that the parts manufactured are lightweight so that reduces the energy usage in transportation again. Looked at in the round, BMW says the approach makes sense from a sustainability perspective. I'm told that the BMW/SGL joint venture could also supply other non-automotive or automotive firms, further helping the economics of the operation.

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