BMW has struck a deal with aviation giant Boeing to research ways to recycle carbon fiber composite materials. The deal will also see the two companies share new research in creating the strong-but-lightweight materials, which are essential both for modern airplanes and for BMW's future range of electric and plug-in hybrid cars.
BMW is working to integrate carbon fiber into the body shell of its upcoming i3 electric car (pictured), and later into the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. Boeing, for its part, uses carbon fiber for about half the structure of its 787 Dreamliner commercial airliner. By working together, the pair hopes to find a way to dispose of "waste" carbon fiber.
"This collaboration agreement is a very important step forward in developing the use and end use of carbon fiber materials. We want to look at ways to reclaim and reuse those materials to make new products. Our work with the BMW Group will help us attain that goal," Boeing vice president of product development Larry Schneider said in a statement.
BMW has already purchased a large stake of carbon-fiber manufacturer SGL Carbon and established a facility in Moses Lake, Washington, to help create the material. Carbon fibers will be produced at Moses Lake, then shipped to BMW's facility in Wackersdorf, Germany, for assembly into body panels, and finally transferred to Leipzeig where the i3 is actually assembled. The i3 is expected to go on sale at the end of 2013, assuming BMW's ambitious Project i doesn't get shuttered before then.
Carbon fiber construction will allow automakers to trim weight from their vehicles without affecting strength or durability, so almost all major companies are researching the material. Ford partnered with Dow Chemical to research carbon fiber for vehicle body parts. Lamborghini has also worked with Boeing (as well as the University of Washington) to develop carbon-fiber technology; coincidentally, parent company Volkswagen briefly sparred with BMW over buying a controlling stake in SGL Carbon.
Interestingly, the BMW partnership isn't the first time Boeing has worked with an automotive company on carbon fiber. Fuji Heavy Industries, which owns Subaru, manufactures large portions of the 787 Dreamliner's carbon-fiber structure.