SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers opens new plant in Washington

The SGL/BMW joint venture in Moses Lake, Wash., will produce carbon fiber for the chassis of the forthcoming BMW i3 and i8 all-electric cars.

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Carbon fiber is already being shipped from SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers' newest plant in Moses Lake, Wash., USA, a joint venture of SGL Group (Charlotte, N.C. and Weisbaden, Germany) and BMW Group (Munich, Germany), and fiber product as well as a full BMWi chassis were prominently displayed during the plant’s opening ceremony on Sept. 1. Attended by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and a host of dignitaries, as well as CompositesWorld, the event underscored the importance of the joint venture and the new automotive trend that it will support.

Co-managing directors Joerg Pohlman and Andreas Wuellner of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers took the podium together to thank those responsible for the rapid buildout of the plant. “It was an amazing job to get this completed on time and under budget, particularly given the heavy snows last winter,” said Wuellner. “This is the world’s first carbon fiber plant dedicated to serial production of automobiles, and it’s the most efficient,” declared Pohlman. The plant has created approximately 80 permanent jobs for the local area, with much of the job training completed at Big Bend Community College located a few miles away. Added Pohlman, “We are ready to produce and are ready to expand.”

SGL’s CEO Robert Koehler called the event a “piece of industrial history,” not only because of BMW’s decision to use carbon fiber in its all-electric BMW i3 and BMW i8 autos, but also because of the very low carbon footprint of the plant itself, powered entirely by hydroelectric energy. “Carbon fiber is mega-trend in material substitution,” he added, noting that SGL is well-positioned to participate in composites as a major player. BMW’s CEO and board chairman Dr. Norbert Reithofer started his presentation with the quote “Fortune favors the bold,” noting that the concept of electric urban vehicles made from carbon is a milestone marking a new era for BMW and a new production paradigm. “Someone has to show what the future looks like, and we’re doing it,” he stated.

Governor Gregoire celebrated the opening with obvious pride in the plant’s “green” attributes, noting that the state of Washington shares the group’s values in choosing clean energy and looking to the future and new technologies. She envisions a world where is the norm is to “recharge” rather than “refill” a tank with gas. “By the end of 2011, Washington will open its Electric Highway project along I-5 with recharging stations located every 40 to 60 miles, the first of its kind in the world. In the not too distant future, there will be 300,000 electric vehicles in Washington — a sign of what tomorrow holds.” She also made reference to the The Boeing Co.’s (Seattle, Wash.) 787 Dreamliner program and Washington’s position as the U.S.’s fourth largest wind power producer as further example of the state’s command of 21st century skills and materials.

At the conclusion of the speeches, spools of carbon tow were presented to Gregoire, Koehler and Reithofer by Wuellner and Pohlman. The plant, situated on 60 acres adjacent to the Moses Lake airport, currently has two lines running, each with an annual capacity of 1,500 metric tonnes. The carbon is shipped to the joint venture’s second plant in Wackersdorf, Germany, where it is converted into fabrics for BMW and the car chasses.