Thanks to a $200 million investment, BMW will triple production capacity at its Moses Lake, Washington carbon fiber manufacturing plant. The goal is to increase capacity to 9000 tons per year, making the facility the largest producer of carbon fiber in the world.
Currently, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers (the official name of the joint venture between SGL Group and BMW Group) produces 3000 tons of carbon fiber a year with a staff of about 80. The massive investment on top of the original $100 million investment will add 120 jobs for a total staff of about 200. This summer the plant will effectively double with the addition of third and fourth production lines, with the fifth and six lines finalized by early 2015.
The manufacture of carbon fiber requires a huge amount of energy. The Moses Lake facility harvests renewable hydropower that is generated from a nearby dam.
The plant exclusively manufactures carbon fiber for BMW’s Project i, but that is going to change once production is expanded. “As part of an intelligent mix of materials, we will apply carbon also beyond our BMW i and BMW M models in the future,” said BMW purchasing and supplier network board member Dr. Klaus Draeger, in a statement. “We will be able to produce [carbon] also for other model series, at competitive costs and in large quantities.”
BMW’s high-performance M cars already use carbon fiber for lightweight body panels and interior trim pieces. There’s also been mention of BMW using production waste from Project i to build carbon fiber wheels, steering wheels, and drive shafts.
It’s a major development for carbon fiber to find its way into series-production vehicles apart from the Project i and M umbrellas; no other automaker has anything resembling the same degree of capability to cost-effectively implement the expensive material on such a large scale. While many thought that BMW was way out on a limb with its Project i initiatives when they were first announced, it might not be too long before mainstream BMW vehicles share a fair amount of carbon components with the i3 and i8.