BMW closes the carbon fiber loop

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BMW AG BMW uses recycled carbon fiber in the roof and rear seat shells on the i3 electric car.
TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — BMW’s extensive use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic in its i-series vehicles has prompted the development of ways to recycle unused material.

BMW’s all-electric i3 and the hybrid i8 represent the first mass-production vehicles with carbon fiber-intensive construction. As the market for carbon fiber grows, so does a need to cut costs, including reclaiming and reusing leftover portions of the valuable material.

Franz Storkenmaier, head of lightweight construction and vehicle weight at BMW AG, discussed the Munich, Germany-based automaker’s CF recycling efforts in a presentation at the Center for Automotive Research’s Automotive Briefing Seminars.

“The application of carbon fiber is well understood. The challenge is to industrialize that and make it economic,” he said.

BMW uses recycled CF in the epoxide resin-based CF reinforced plastic roof of the i3 and i8, as well as the i3’s rear seat shell, which is molded with non-woven recycled CF and polyurethane.

BMW’s carbon fiber materials are produced by SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, a joint venture between BMW Group and SGL Group. Their U.S. manufacturing facility is located in Moses Lake, Wash.

SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers recently talked with Plastics News sister publication European Plastics News about producing oriented (anisotropic) and isotropic non-woven fleece materials from CFRP waste materials. SGL ACF described its recycled CF yarns as “stretch-broken” with “special properties” such as high tensile strength and low yarn count, which apparently makes them especially suitable for processing into textile fabrics. CF non-woven fleeces were developed over a three-year period together with the TITK Thuringia institute for textile and plastics research, based in Rudolstadt, Germany.

Vink is a correspondent for European Plastics News.