BMW and Boeing will share know-how about making carbon fiber. BMW says it signed a collaboration agreement “to participate in joint research for carbon fiber recycling as well as share manufacturing knowledge and explore automation opportunities.”
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is 50 percent made of carbon fiber material. With the release of the BMW i3 in late 2013, followed later by the BMW i8, the BMW Group will bring two vehicles with a carbon passenger cell onto the market. BMW is heavily invested in industry leader SGL.
Carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) is 30 percent lighter than aluminum and 50 percent lighter than steel, a key factor to help cut vehicle weight and fuel consumption. CFRP has an unsurpassed strength-to-stiffness-to-weight ratio. CFRP also is extremely expensive, mainly due to its long cycle time. A press can crank out metal car parts in mere seconds, a CFRP part can take many hours to cure. Making CFRP affordable and suitable for mass production is the big challenge.
CFRP technology also is rumored to be part of BMW’s alliance with Toyota. Toyota has developed significant carbon fiber expertise in-house. The Lexus LFA supercar is made from 65 percent carbon fiber and 35 percent aluminum. However, the buzzle at LFA Works is dying down, with the last LFAs leaving the factory as we write this. From what we are hearing, there is no follow-up work in the LFA Works just yet.