BMW Megacity – Moses Lake carbon fiber plant to grow in Washington State

A new carbon fiber plant being built in Moses Lake could become the largest facility of its kind in the world because of strong demand for the composites by German carmaker BMW AG, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Friday.

Gregoire also said the plant, which started construction in July, may soon double in size.

Gregoire was wrapping up a three-day trip to Germany, where she met with top executives of BMW and SGL Group, a European carbon manufacturing company. The two companies have formed SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, a joint venture that is building the central Washington plant to make composite material for BMW’s Megacity vehicle, a high-tech electric car to be launched before 2015.

When officials of the two companies announced the $100 million plant in April, they said they hoped to expand and had taken an option on more land at the plant’s Port of Moses Lake site. The plant initially will employ 80 workers and support about 200 construction jobs.

Gregoire said the executives told her they plan to expand sooner than expected.

“I am absolutely convinced that they are planning now phase two,” she said, adding that the company’s board of directors will meet early next year to decide whether to speed the expansion.

“Wow,” said Moses Lake Mayor Jon Lane when told of Gregoire’s optimism. “It’s certainly delightful news and we’re caught unaware,” he said.

Depending on their application, carbon fiber composites can be lighter, stronger and far more durable than many metals. Boeing Co.’s new 787 jetliner is mostly made out of the material.

BMW thinks carbon fiber can be widely used in its automotive line beyond its lightweight electric car, but it can’t get enough of it, Gregoire said.

She said the number of plant workers would double with the new expansion and could double again in a third phase.

“If we can secure these two phases, phase two, phase three, we would be the largest carbon fiber manufacturing plant in the world,” Gregoire said.

The plant will import raw materials to spin into tiny fibers, which then will be shipped to SGL’s Wackersdorf, Germany, site to be turned into fabric. BMW will build car components in Landshut, Germany, and assemble the Megacity cars in Leipzig.

On Friday, BMW said it would spend 400 million Euros ($565 million) in the next two years to expand the Leipzig plant. In all, it and SGL are investing 530 million Euros ($748 million) in the electric car project, including Moses Lake.

Agriculture is still the major business for Moses Lake and surrounding Grant County, but low hydropower rates are drawing an increasing number of high-tech companies, including a plant to make solar cell materials and several electricity-intensive computer server farms.

Gregoire said BMW and SGL also are interested in a potential partnership with the University of Washington for carbon fiber research. The school presently is home to the Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory, which does basic research for the Italian carmaker, Boeing and other companies.

During her trip, the Democratic governor also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to promote trade and business ties.

By GEORGE TIBBITS/NYT

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One comment

  1. carbon fiber is the most important material to make the vehicle lighter and not compromising on the sturdy part. no wonder people are keen to build more facilities for its manufacture.

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