Due to the high demand for carbon fiber in automotive production, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers plans to triple the capacity of the carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake, Wash. Joint venture partners SGL Group and BMW Group announced planned capacity increase at a groundbreaking ceremony for the site expansion. The expansion will be funded by an investment of $200 million dollars in addition to the previously invested $100 million.

The site expansion, scheduled to be completed by early 2015, will make the plant in Moses Lake the world’s largest carbon fiber plant, according to the partners. Due to the automated production processes, expansion of the site in Moses Lake will make it possible for the BMW Group to apply carbon fiber material in other model series in the future at competitive costs and in large quantities.

At present, the Moses Lake plant operates two production lines exclusively for BMW i, with an annual output of approximately 3,000 tons of carbon fiber. Already this summer, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers will commission a third and fourth production line in Moses Lake, which are currently being built, thus doubling the plant’s capacity to 6,000 tons per year. The groundbreaking ceremony for a fifth and sixth production line moves the plant one step closer to tripling capacities to 9,000 tons annually in the medium term.

The carbon fiber plant in Moses Lake is a key element in the strategy pursued by the two companies, which anticipates the industrialized large-series production of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for the application in future vehicle concepts. Up to now, carbon fiber produced in Moses Lake is exclusively used for the BMW i models. Since the start of the year, the Leipzig plant has built over 5,000 BMW i3 vehicles. At present, the production output stands at 100 units a day. Furthermore, the BMW Group has been applying the ultra-lightweight high-tech material also in its BMW M models for the past ten years.

The energy needed for the carbon fiber production is fully generated from hydropower. Availability of renewable energy was crucial in the decision for the location in Moses Lake. The production of carbon fiber requires a great amount of energy. The production of carbon fiber composites for automotive manufacturing requires several process steps: The necessary precursor, which is based on polyacrylnitrile fiber, is made by a joint venture between SGL Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi Rayon in Otake, Japan. In a next step, polyacrylnitrile fiber is turned into the actual carbon fiber in Moses Lake. This material is then processed at the second joint venture site in Wackersdorf, Germany, and turned into textile carbon fiber layers, the starting point for the production of CFRP body parts at the BMW plants in Landshut and Leipzig.

In the BMW i models, CFRP already holds a significant share in the mix of materials, a first at this scope and in series production. The joint venture gives the BMW Group access to this innovative key material in the long term. The SGL Group provides their expertise in high-performance materials and their experience with carbon fiber-based materials.