Carbon fiber material produced at SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers in Moses Lake, Wash. (Photo courtesy of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers)
Carbon fiber under production at SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers. The facility's construction resulted in 200 jobs. (Photo courtesy of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers)
Hydroelectric power from the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River provides clean energy to the SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers plant. (Photo courtesy of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers)
Carbon fiber material manufactured by SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers in Washington is being used in the new BMW i3. (Photo courtesy of BMW Group)
One of the world’s first electric vehicles built using ultra lightweight carbon fiber material manufactured in the U.S. was recently unveiled. This ultra-efficient material could one day become commonplace in the manufacturing of automobiles.
The BMW i3 features a passenger compartment made entirely of carbon fiber, a reinforced plastic that is strong as steel but about half as heavy, which helps make the car lighter and more efficient than typical vehicles. The material is also known to be resistant to heat and corrosion.
SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers manufactured the high-tech material at their Moses Lake, Wash. facility, which opened in September 2011. The facility’s construction, on the former site of Larson Air Force Base, resulted in 200 jobs.
SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers, a joint venture of SGL Group and BMW Group, received a grant from Washington’s Department of Commerce through the Energy Department’s State Energy Program to help supply the facility with sophisticated waste-recovery equipment, fuel efficient ovens, furnaces and motors. The result is a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient manufacturing plant staffed with 80 full-time employees from the Moses Lake community.
Additionally, the facility taps hydropower as an energy source for producing the carbon fiber material, making the plant a model for eco-friendly manufacturing practices.
The carbon fiber material used in the i3 will help reduce energy consumption due to its lighter weight. In gasoline fueled cars, carbon fiber has the potential to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 35 percent.
The advancement of carbon fiber is one of many technologies funded by the State Energy Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to states through formula and competitive grants. States then use the formula grants to develop strategies and goals to address their energy priorities. The program was created by Congress in 1996 and is managed by the Energy Department’s Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program. For more on the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program and the State Energy Program, visit eere.energy.gov/wip.