SGL Group and BMW Group today announced today that their joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, would build a carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, Washington.
During the initial phase, $100 million will be invested and 80 local jobs will be created.
The new facility is part of a strategy to commercialize the manufacturing of ultra light weight carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in future vehicles. Right now CFRP is only used in ultra-expensive supercars, and the hand layup processes are glacially slow and defect prone.
However, as both carbon dioxide and fuel efficiency standards tighten all auto makers are looking to build lighter weight vehicles to increase fuel efficiency. Light weight is particularly appealing for electric vehicles because it decreases the demand on very expensive lithium ion battery packs thereby increasing range.
The fibers manufactured at Moses Lake will be used in BMW Group’s upcoming Megacity vehicle – a new small car for urban mobility. Megacity is set to be launched before 2015 under the Mini brand, and will be assembled in Leipzig, Germany.
Also known as project-i, the Megacity program will eventually produce both electric and internal combustion engine vehicles. CFRP is a relatively strong lightweight material but it has been considered too expensive for mass applications. CFRP also requires sophisticated design and analysis tools so that vehicles with it meet safety regulations, particularly crash standards. (more…)