BMW recently hosted a Sustainability and Innovation Conference, taking place at its Group Research and Innovation Centre in Munich, Germany.
The event gave the media an opportunity to learn about the various projects the company has been working on with the goal of sustainable production going forward.
Among these projects are BMW’s efforts to develop new materials and production methods for its cars to reduce the manufacturer’s net carbon emissions and environmental impact in the years to come.
Many of these materials are already in use in the automaker’s vehicles, comprising as much as 30% of certain models, but BMW said its current goal is to have renewable and “secondary materials” make up 50% of its cars by 2030.
The circular economy
Secondary materials is an industry term referring to recycled and re-used substances taken from the primary manufacturing cycle. It forms part of what is known as the “circular economy” – a concept of production which aims to reduce waste, be more energy efficient, and re-use materials wherever possible.
BMW has already started implementing this, and the conference highlighted several examples of where the automaker is using recycled materials to produce components.
One such example is recycled plastic that the manufacturer sorts into several types before turning them into granulates for shipping, where they can then be transformed into new items ranging from the back panel for the seats on the BMW X5 to engine coverings.
Much of this plastic is sourced from older vehicles taken off the roads, but the carmaker is also making use of plastics and materials taken from other industries.
Fishing nets are one of the most common pollutants in the world’s oceans, and BMW is now buying used nets from fishermen and using them to create components such as door linings and body panels.
The company’s efforts are not just limited to plastics, however.
Metal production is one of the most energy-intensive parts of a vehicle’s development, and BMW is looking at ways in which this can be reduced.
The German carmaker now sources its aluminium from Dubai, where it is produced using solar power rather than fossil fuels.
It is also limiting its usage of rare earth minerals, as the mining processes associated with it often lead to severe environmental damage.
Consequentially, BMW no longer sources minerals like cobalt from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the environmental damage and human rights abuses associated with it, said the manufacturer.
It is also reusing metals from old vehicles, melting them down while checking to ensure the integrity of the metal still holds up by monitoring things like carbon levels in its steel.
An example shown was of two wheels for the Mini Cooper SE, one of which was new while the other was made with recycled metal and energy-efficient methods, and the two were completely identical.
These practices are helping to reduce the company’s C02 production by 50%, it said.
As for the interiors, BMW is investigating several possibilities regarding new materials and production methods.
This once again included recycled goods, such as foam re-used from old car seats to pad new ones, but it also extends to new substances such as vegan leather alternatives for the upholstery.
One interesting example was a fibre material produced from a cactus, which BMW purchases from a small start-up company in Mexico.
Another was flax fibre, made from the eponymous plant, which the carmaker is using to produce both softer materials as well as a carbon fibre substitute.
While flax fibre does not have the same strength properties as carbon fibre, it looks and feels very similar, and BMW plans to use it as a substitute in its interiors for items such as the dashboard.
Other alternate materials consist of PVC leather made with cork, to Mirum – a plant-based leather alternative made with rubber and plant wax – which BMW has already used in the construction of one of its seats.
In an effort to reduce the amount of material that is wasted, the company is also experimenting with new ways of producing and applying materials to its seats.
Lab-grown bio-material made from bacteria is one such idea, which BMW says it is able to grow to fit any design. The material itself had a plastic-like feel when touched.
Another is for seats to be upholstered using 3D printing to reduce waste, and one such advantage of this method is that it allows for greater colour customization, said the automaker.
Also on display at the conference was the BMW i Vision Circular – an electric concept car meant to showcase what a car from BMW using 100% secondary materials could look like.
BMW i Vision Circular
BMW’s sustainable materials
Keyword: What your BMW will soon be made from