The industrial/government R&D collaboration at the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is one of the more promising efforts to lower fiber costs.

BMW_i3_at_NightWhen the BMW i3 city car rolls out of the company’s Leipzig plant later this year, it will represent the first carbon-fiber car that will be manufactured in any quantity—about 40,000 vehicles a year at full output. The lightweight but sturdy nonmetallic structure of the new commuter car, the result of BMW’s joint venture with SGL Technologies in Wiesbaden, will mark a milestone in the development of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) materials, which have traditionally been too costly for use in automotive mass production.

CFRPs are engineered materials that are fabricated by embedding webs of carbon fiber inside molded polymer resins. The fibers bolster the physical properties of the plastic matrix component in the same way that a skeleton of steel rebar strengthens a poured-concrete structure.

Although the i3 electric vehicle (EV) won’t exactly come cheap—estimates run from $40,000 to $50,000—BMW reportedly claims that forthcoming improvements in the production process during the next three to five years should cut carbon composite costs enough to match those of aluminum chassis, which still command a premium over standard steel car frames.

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Source: Steven Ashley | Automotive Engineering International | February 27, 2013
Image: BMW