The new facility is part of the companies' strategy to commercialise viable manufacturing of lightweight carbon fibre reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in cars. The fibres manufactured at Moses Lake will be used exclusively for BMW’s upcoming Megacity Vehicle. This electric car designed for urban travel is set to be launched before 2015 under a BMW sub-brand.

Announcing the new plant, BMW and SGL, both headquartered in Germany, said the decision to build the carbon fibre plant in Moses Lake was based primarily on the availability of renewable energy (hydropower) and competitive energy costs in the state of Washington. Favourable infrastructure conditions, existing utilities, a skilled labour force and ease of working with the local government were also contributing factors.

The raw material needed to manufacture the carbon fibres, a polyacrylonitrile (PAN) based precursor, will be produced by a joint venture between SGL Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon (MRC) in Otake, Japan. The facility in Moses Lake will convert the polyacrylic fibres into carbon fibres. These fibres will then be processed into carbon fibre fabrics at a second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany. The CFRP parts and components will then be made from these fabrics at the BMW Group Plant Landshut, Germany.

The assembly of the Megacity Vehicle will take place at the BMW Group plant in Leipzig, Germany, where currently a range of BMW 1 Series and the BMW X1 are being built.

SGL and BMW have cooperated for many years in the area of carbon fibre composites and combined their core competencies to industrialise the use of carbon fibres in automotive applications in a joint venture founded in October 2009. The joint venture operates through two companies, one based in the USA (SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC) and the other in Germany (SGL Automotive Fibers GmbH & Co KG). SGL holds 51% of the shares and BMW 49%.

'World's most cost efficient carbon fibre plant'

"This new plant in Moses Lake is a milestone in the use of carbon fibres for large scale production in the automotive industry," said Robert Koehler, CEO SGL Group. "It will be the world's most cost efficient carbon fibre plant using state-of-the-art technologies.”

SGL already operates carbon fibre and composite materials plants in the USA.

"We consider carbon fibre a cutting-edge material,” said Friedrich Eichiner, Member of the Board of Management, Finance, BMW AG. “Our joint efforts will make sustainable mobility possible in urban environments. Acting sustainably is part of our corporate strategy. Our focus includes the whole value chain. Therefore, the energy demand for producing carbon fibre will come from environmentally friendly hydropower."

"Lightweight construction is a core aspect for sustainable mobility improving both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, two key elements of our EfficientDynamics strategy,” he continued. “With using CFRP components in our Megacity Vehicle, we take sustainable mobility a step further. By combining the know how of SGL Group and our expertise in manufacturing CFRP components, we will be able to produce carbon fibre enhanced components in large volumes at competitive costs for the first time. This is particularly relevant for electric-powered vehicles such as the Megacity Vehicle."