Vehicle components made from natural materials
The BMW Group is deepening its involvement in the field of sustainable, resource-efficient manufacturing of vehicle components made from natural materials. BMW i Ventures, the premium carmaker’s venture capital firm, is now investing in Swiss cleantech company Bcomp, the leading manufacturer of high-performance composites made from natural fibres. At the same time, the two companies are also strengthening their partnership on the motorsport side, with Bcomp now an official BMW M Motorsport partner with the new BMW M4 GT4 racing car. Plus, BMW Group Research and Bcomp are also setting up a development collaboration with the aim of using a higher proportion of renewable raw materials for components in future vehicle models.
Bcomp’s cutting-edge reinforcement solutions were first deployed by BMW M Motorsport in Formula E in 2019. The flax cooling shaft on the BMW iFE.20 made it the first BMW racing car with parts constructed from renewable plant fibres. Meanwhile, the Bcomp-developed powerRibs™ and ampliTex™ reinforcement solutions made from natural composite materials have been used in DTM touring cars from BMW M Motorsport to substitute selected carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) components. Such advances underline BMW M Motorsport’s vital role as a technology lab for the BMW Group, which is now set to continue with the collaboration on the BMW M4 GT4. Taking the findings and experience gained on the track as a basis, these new material technologies will also find their way into BMW M models and BMW M Performance Parts. “Product sustainability is increasing in importance in the world of motorsport too,” says Franciscus van Meel, Chairman of the Board of Management at BMW M GmbH.
Inspired by leaf veins, the powerRibs™ reinforcement technology developed by Bcomp maximises stiffness with minimal weight by creating a 3D structure on one side of a thin-walled shell element. This enables a decrease in the amount of base material used, thereby reducing weight, costs and consumables in production. The ampliTex™ reinforcements add a visible layer of flax fibres as a carbon-neutral replacement for the conventional covering material. Combining the two materials makes it possible to cut the amount of plastic used for interior panelling by up to 70 per cent and at the same time to lower CO2 emissions by as much as 60 per cent. The result is more sustainable vehicle components, whose failure mode has the additional benefit of increasing safety over traditional composites. The natural-fibre composites also lend themselves to use with classical motor sport accessories, such as those in the BMW M Performance Parts range.
The development collaboration between BMW Group Research and Bcomp is also working on the use of new sustainable material solutions for future production models. Developing such innovative materials forms a key element of the sustainability strategy of the BMW Group, which is seeking to lower its vehicles’ lifecycle carbon emissions by over 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.
Employing renewable raw materials and natural fibres such as hemp, kenaf or flax minimises material usage while also achieving a weight reduction of up to 50 per cent over conventional materials. This in turn helps to lower the energy consumption of the vehicles in which they are used. What is more, the natural materials bring down the calculated CO2 figure, as their original plants have absorbed CO2 while growing and released oxygen.