How far would the folks at the corporate wheel of the ultimate driving machine venture to maximize sustainability throughout the value chain linking BMWs all-electric i3 vehicle to its upstream vendors, upscale customers and ultimately end-of-life recyclers?
The apparent answer is as far as it takes. The BMW Group, which has been pounding the sustainability pavement since the early 1970s, is sourcing materials and manufacturing knowhow and muscle from as nearby as the farms of Southern Germany and forests of Europe to as far away as Japan and the West Coast of the United States.
In search of readily available, clean and renewable local hydropower, SGL Carbon Fibers, a $100-million-plus joint venture teaming Munich-based BMW AG and Weisbaden, Germany-based SGL Group, set up shop in Moses Lake, Wash., where it is producing ultra-lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in the precedent-setting i Series vehicles (see link here).
BMWs sustainability drive is evident in, out, around and through the i3, starting with the use of natural materials, such as the European eucalyptus wood outfitting the dashboard of the concept version of the vehicle. The material is harvested entirely of timber grown in Europe and certified as 100-percent sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the worlds forests. Other natural elements used in the interior range from leather tanned using a process derived from olive leaves to the high-strength dark anthracite material made from compressed and coated plant fibers accentuating parts of the instrument panel and door paneling.
In addition to the extensive use of natural fibers and naturally tanned leather, 25 percent of the weight of the interior plastic comes in the form of recycled or renewable raw materials, BMW claims.
While the joint-venture CFRP plant in Washington State operates entirely off renewable hydropower, BMW will rely on four wind turbines to generate the electricity needed to power the plant in Germany where the vehicle is assembled.
Actual production of the CFRP, which lends the i Series its unique status as the first high-volume vehicle to feature the extensive use of carbon fiber involves several work stages. The production process begins in Otake, Japan, where the raw material needed to produce carbon fibers, a polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor, is produced by a joint venture between SGL Group and MitsubishiRayon. Polyacrylic fibers produced there are converted into carbon fibers at Moses Lake and then processed into carbon fiber fabrics at a second joint venture facility in Wackersdorf, Germany. The fabric is then shipped to a BMW plant in Landshut Germany, where it will be transformed into plastic parts and components, which are assembled into the i3 at yet another BMW Group plant in Leipzig, Germany.
The first i3s are scheduled to roll off the production line at Leipzig beginning in 2013 at which time the high-tech, newly expanded facility will be pulling power generated by four wind turbines on the site.
While the i3s green credentials are about as impeccable as they can get these days, theres little question the global reach, logistics and transportation required to link the supply chain supporting its manufacture leaves room to grow even greener.a