Carbon fiber, an ultra-light and durable material, is no stranger on the race track, where speed is paramount and price is no object. But high costs have largely limited carbon fiber to the luxury section of the consumer market.
The passenger compartment of BMW's concept electric vehicles, the i3 and i8, are made entirely out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. The composite material is at least as strong as steel but around 50 percent lighter, and is 20 percent lighter than aluminum, according to the company.
BMW has made big investments in carbon fiber in the hope of bringing down costs. Last year, BMW opened a carbon fiber production plant in Moses Lake, Wash., where it will manufacture the material for the i-class vehicles. The i3 is expected to launch in 2013, and the i8 in 2014.
"Carbon fibers are a key construction material for the automotive industry of the 21st century and will change the way we develop and build cars," said Norbert Reithofer, BMW's CEO and board chairman, upon announcing the new production facility.
The Tesla Roadster, a $100,000 high-performance all-electric sports car, is made with a carbon-fiber body panels and an aluminum chassis for better efficiency. On the new Tesla Model S all-electric sedan, a more affordable option at around $50,000, the company used aluminum for the body but passed on the carbon fiber.
"For limited or low-volume production cars like the Roadster, carbon fiber is a great material to reduce weight. It's not a solution for higher-volume production due to cost and manufacturing time," said Tesla Design Director Franz von Holzhausen in a statement earlier this year. "For Model S, we are using aluminum for the body panels and chassis. Aluminum is as strong as steel but lighter in weight, and has similar manufacturing capabilities. Lighter weight translates directly to efficiency."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500