BMW has placed big bets on carbon fiber – it’s a critical component of the i3 and the upcoming i8, and the company has hinted that it may use it in some of its legacy models as well. But is the miracle material really all that green?
According to WardsAuto, (unspecified) critics say that carbon fiber’s long supply chain, with the source product usually originating in Japan, is less than eco-friendly. Klaus Draeger, BMW’s head of purchasing, acknowledged the issue in a recent interview. “If you take together the battery, the carbon fiber, the aluminum and what is on the car, you start slightly worse than a conventional car,” he told WardsAuto. “But by using much less energy during driving, the carbon emissions over the lifetime of an i3 is better than a conventional car…and if you drive the car during the lifespan with renewable energy it is actually much better.”
According to BMW, its i models are greener than old-fashioned automobiles in several ways. The thermoplastic body panels require no painting. The company’s carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Washington, uses carbon-free hydropower from Columbia River dams. At the BMW plant in Leipzig, Germany, where the i3 and i8 are built, four wind turbines provide more than 50% of the energy needed for the cars’ production.
Draeger also said that, while BMW plans to use all 9,000 tons of Moses Lake’s annual carbon fiber production, it might be willing to share. “Our prognosis currently shows that we will need all that we are producing here,” he said. “But, of course, if there were to be some overcapacity, we could think about [sales to other automakers] as well.”