Automotive

Cradle-to-grave sustainability is at the core of BMW's new i3

Cradle-to-grave sustainability...
With a bubble-like urban design, the i3 includes copious amounts of glass and light-weight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP)
With a bubble-like urban design, the i3 includes copious amounts of glass and light-weight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP)
View 23 Images
With a bubble-like urban design, the i3 includes copious amounts of glass and light-weight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP)
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With a bubble-like urban design, the i3 includes copious amounts of glass and light-weight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP)
The i3 can be fully recharged in six hours via a standard outlet, or 30 minutes using a fast charger to an 80 per cent charge
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The i3 can be fully recharged in six hours via a standard outlet, or 30 minutes using a fast charger to an 80 per cent charge
The lower half of the i3's LifeDrive aluminum frame secures the lithium-ion battery underneath providing increased overall cabin space
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The lower half of the i3's LifeDrive aluminum frame secures the lithium-ion battery underneath providing increased overall cabin space
The i3's electric motor mounted over the rear axle, incorporates the power electronics, transmission and differential
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The i3's electric motor mounted over the rear axle, incorporates the power electronics, transmission and differential
BMW's holistic approach to sustainability is evident across the manufacturing process
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BMW's holistic approach to sustainability is evident across the manufacturing process
BMW's Leipzig facility boasts 50 percent savings in energy and 70 percent savings in water usage relative to traditional manufacturing facilities
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BMW's Leipzig facility boasts 50 percent savings in energy and 70 percent savings in water usage relative to traditional manufacturing facilities
Four wind turbines at the Leipzig site produce 26 GWh/ year, with excess power redirected to other processes in the plant
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Four wind turbines at the Leipzig site produce 26 GWh/ year, with excess power redirected to other processes in the plant
BMW claims to be the first auto manufacturer to have the facilities and manufacturing techniques in place to use CFRP on a massive scale
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BMW claims to be the first auto manufacturer to have the facilities and manufacturing techniques in place to use CFRP on a massive scale
The i3’s “LifeDrive Architecture” mounts the CFRP “life module,” or passenger compartment, on to the aluminum subframe
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The i3’s “LifeDrive Architecture” mounts the CFRP “life module,” or passenger compartment, on to the aluminum subframe
Range can be increased to 200 km (124 mi) through BMW’s “EcoPro” modes, or 300 km (180 mi) via an optional range extender
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Range can be increased to 200 km (124 mi) through BMW’s “EcoPro” modes, or 300 km (180 mi) via an optional range extender
The i3's motor generates 125 kW (170 hp) of power to the rear wheels
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The i3's motor generates 125 kW (170 hp) of power to the rear wheels
CFRP parts can be modified any time during the manufacturing process of the i3, meaning reduced design reworks and downtime
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CFRP parts can be modified any time during the manufacturing process of the i3, meaning reduced design reworks and downtime
According to BMW, the i3 meets or exceeds safety requirements as a result of the aluminum subframe design and CRFP life-pod architecture
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According to BMW, the i3 meets or exceeds safety requirements as a result of the aluminum subframe design and CRFP life-pod architecture
Following the philosophy of “cradle to grave” sutainability, BMW has developed the world’s first CFRP recycling concept
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Following the philosophy of “cradle to grave” sutainability, BMW has developed the world’s first CFRP recycling concept
European eucalyptus wood used in the dashboard is made of European timber grown and certified as 100 percent sourced from responsible forestry
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European eucalyptus wood used in the dashboard is made of European timber grown and certified as 100 percent sourced from responsible forestry
The i3 will go into production at the end of 2013 at BMWs facility in Leipzig, Germany
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The i3 will go into production at the end of 2013 at BMWs facility in Leipzig, Germany
A low-power heat pump system and low energy LEDs save over 30 percent of energy draw and increase range
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A low-power heat pump system and low energy LEDs save over 30 percent of energy draw and increase range
The i3's air conditioning system keeps the battery cool when charging, while a pre-heater warms the battery to optimal operating temperatures in colder climates
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The i3's air conditioning system keeps the battery cool when charging, while a pre-heater warms the battery to optimal operating temperatures in colder climates
BMW reports performance figures of 0-100km/h (62 mph) in eight seconds and a top speed estimated at 150 km/h (93 mph)
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BMW reports performance figures of 0-100km/h (62 mph) in eight seconds and a top speed estimated at 150 km/h (93 mph)
BMWs new CFRP process can produce lighter components quicker, that require less structural elements and less overall energy to produce
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BMWs new CFRP process can produce lighter components quicker, that require less structural elements and less overall energy to produce
The i3 cockpit uses recycled CFRP in various components to reduce material waste and save money on overall production
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The i3 cockpit uses recycled CFRP in various components to reduce material waste and save money on overall production
BMW and its partners are working to expand both traditional and quick charge systems across Germany and select parts of Europe
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BMW and its partners are working to expand both traditional and quick charge systems across Germany and select parts of Europe
Leather used in the interior is tanned using a natural agent derived from olive leaves, further maintaining the i3's sustainability mandate
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Leather used in the interior is tanned using a natural agent derived from olive leaves, further maintaining the i3's sustainability mandate

When the i3 concept was unveiled alongside the i8 coupe concept back in 2011, it was the i8 that hogged the spotlight in commercials and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. But BMW engineers were hard at work in Germany developing real world production plans for the i3 and BMW is now set to put its first fully electric vehicle into mass production by the end of 2013. But the wee urban EV plays only a small part in BMW’s overall sustainability program.

To quickly recap, the i3 is designed as a fully electric inner city four seater. Using BMW’s eDrive technology, the i3 will have a range of around 130 to 160 km (80 to 100 mi), which means most urban users at which it is targeted will only have to recharge it every two or three days. Generating 125 kW (170 hp) of power to the rear wheels and 250 Nm of torque (184.4 lb.ft), BMW reports performance figures of 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in eight seconds and a top speed estimated at 150 km/h (93 mph).

The company claims the i3's range can be increased to 200 km (124 mi) through its “EcoPro” modes (Eco Pro and Eco Pro+), while a “range extender” will also be available as an optional extra that will add another 130 km (80 mi) to the vehicle’s range. The i3 can be fully recharged in six hours via a standard outlet, or to an 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes using a fast charger.

Battery issues

Batteries, fickle things that they are, function best at room temperature, with heat and cold significantly affecting their performance. But since most cars aren't driven indoors, BMW has developed a system designed to keep the i3’s battery in the sweet zone, which in turn increases battery life and range. The intelligent heating/cooling system uses air conditioning coolant to cool the battery when things are heating up, and when things turn polar, a pre-heater warms the battery to optimal operating temperatures while plugged in. BMW claims this system helps ensure the lithium-ion battery should last the lifetime of the car.

The i3's motor generates 125 kW (170 hp) of power to the rear wheels
The i3's motor generates 125 kW (170 hp) of power to the rear wheels

Batteries are considered the weakest link in the sustainability chain and highly undesirable as a recyclable component. BMW again recognized this as a long term sustainability issue and set in motion a plan to repurpose, or re-use i3 batteries. After roughly 1,000 charging cycles the i3's batteries are serviced and put to use as short term solar storage units for residential energy consumption. On a commercial level, several batteries can be linked together to form either large scale energy storage units or brought into the grid to act as supplemental power banks.

Increasing drive range is the critical moving target and ongoing challenge for manufacturers when it comes to electric vehicles. The smallest electrical device can decrease range, add several power sucking devices together and range can be drastically impacted. In the case of the i3, BMW addressed this niggling issue by incorporating items like a low-power heat pump system that the company claims saves 30 percent more power in traffic relative to a normal heater. In the cockpit LEDs are used to illuminate the cabin versus traditional low efficiency bulbs, further reducing power draw and increasing range.

Following the philosophy of “cradle to grave” sutainability, BMW has developed the world’s first CFRP recycling concept
Following the philosophy of “cradle to grave” sutainability, BMW has developed the world’s first CFRP recycling concept

CFRP brings weight reductions

Vehicle weight, another range-robbing factor was also on BMW's hit list when developing the i3. It makes widespread use of CFRP, which in addition to weight reduction, also offers advantages in terms of safety. Due to issues like cost, production line flexibility and overly complex manufacturing processes, CFRP has largely been limited to use in supercars like the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento. But over the past ten years, BMW has put millions of dollars and countless hours of research into making CFRP a viable option for mainstream production. TO that end, BMW claims it is the first manufacturer to have the facilities and manufacturing techniques in place to enable widespread use of CFRP in mainstream vehicles. In keeping with its “cradle to grave” philosophy, BMW has also come up with what it claims is the world’s first CFRP recycling concept. Various body components, production waste and even parts from damaged i3’s will find their way back into production following a unique sorting process that separates “resinated” materials from non-resin parts. Excess CFRP cuttings, sans resin, that would normally be discarded are instead repurposed back into non-woven textiles and worked back into the vehicle. BMW claims around ten percent of the carbon fiber used in production of the i3 is derived from recycled materials.

Sustainability begins in the factory

Even before wheels hit the ground BMW, sought to make the manufacturing process as eco-friendly as possible. At BMW’s Leipzig shop (certified LEED Gold) in Germany, the company’s energy requirements are addressed via four wind power systems. The systems not only provide all the power necessary for production but actually over produce for the facility's requirements. Producing 26 GWh a year, the four Nordex N100/2500 turbines develop a yearly surplus of up to 2 GWh. This excess power is then redirected out to other processes at the Leipzig site, further reducing its overall energy footprint. BMW reports the Leipzig facility garners another 50 percent savings in energy and 70 percent savings in water usage relative to its other more traditional manufacturing facilities.

BMW claims to be the first auto manufacturer to have the facilities and manufacturing techniques in place to use CFRP on a massive scale
BMW claims to be the first auto manufacturer to have the facilities and manufacturing techniques in place to use CFRP on a massive scale

At a dedicated facility in Moses Lake, Washington, BMW has partnered with SGL Group to fill all the i3's carbon fiber requirements. Producing carbon fiber since 2011, the hi-tech CFRP facility runs two lines, capable of producing 1,500 tonnes of fiber per year. Fibers are then shipped to the Wackersdorf Innovation Park where they are transformed into basic carbon fiber sheets. From there the sheets are shipped to the Bavarian villa of Landshut, and pressed into various CFRP components for the i3. BMW claims that in comparison to conventional CFRP production, CO2 output from the Moses Lake facility is roughly 50 percent less than its competitors.

Leipzig also participates in the forming process by transforming the sheets into their respective 3D forms. These 3D forms can then be assembled to form larger components with relative ease as compared to aluminum or sheet metal processes. According to BMW, this CFRP development allows for modification of parts at any time during the manufacturing process, resulting in faster redesign turnaround and less downtime as compared to traditional steel component reconfiguration.

BMW’s new pressing plant not only has the flexibility to adapt but is further designed to reduce the speed and time in which CFRP components are manufactured. Pre-formed parts are available in minutes thanks to the company’s proprietary manufacturing process that deletes the time-sucking phase of curing from the equation. Not only does BMW’s process reduce component output time, but parts such as a door frame can be processed with critical structural details already included. The advantage to this holistic process enables BMW to more quickly produce i3 components that are lighter, require less structural elements and less overall energy to produce.

The lower half of the i3's LifeDrive aluminum frame secures the lithium-ion battery underneath providing increased overall cabin space
The lower half of the i3's LifeDrive aluminum frame secures the lithium-ion battery underneath providing increased overall cabin space

Contributing to increased component bonding times, BMW developed a new CFRP-friendly adhesive. Whereas traditional fiber bonding required anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, the new adhesive can be processed in ninety seconds, and become hard in only 30 minutes. According to BMW, this represents a ten-fold reduction in processing over the traditional method. BMW also learned that by heating key adhesion areas they could increase the curing process by a factor of 32.

"LifeDrive Architecture"

BMWs new architecture for the i3 is premised around what it calls “LifeDrive Architecture.” The method essentially mounts the CFRP “life module” or passenger compartment, on to an aluminum chassis. Whereas the method of combining pod with frame is not new, what is new the use of a CFRP cocoon in the mix. The pod is then populated with seats, steering wheel, doors, etc and finished off with exterior body panels. The result is a cabin whose volume statistics are reported to exceed that of vehicles of a similar wheelbase.

The i3 cockpit uses recycled CFRP in various components to reduce material waste and save money on overall production
The i3 cockpit uses recycled CFRP in various components to reduce material waste and save money on overall production

The lower half of the architectural arrangement, where the i3’s lithium-ion battery is located underfloor, is a lightweight aluminum frame that holds the electric motor, transmission and differential. According to BMW, the i3 meets or exceeds safety requirements as a result of the aluminum subframe design and CFRP life-pod architecture.

In its first foray into the mass production of an electric vehicle, BMW has shown that its sustainability goals are about more than just the conveyance and production of the vehicle itself. From manufacturing to infrastructure, and recycling to end of life cycle strategies, the company is clearly demonstrating itself to be an industry leader when it comes to the implementation of sustainable processes in developing electric vehicles like the i3.

The i3 is scheduled to go into production at the end of 2013 and is expected to have price in Europe starting at around €40,000 (US$51,000).

The i3 and some of its features can be seen in the following video.

Source: BMW

13 comments
Nairda
Amazing vehicle. Very well engineered. Excellent specs. However,.. "The i3 is scheduled to go into production at the end of 2013 and is expected to have price in Europe starting at around €40,000 (US$51,000)." And there in lies the problem. The demographic will not support it, especially in this economic decline environment. Small cars = small price 90% of that market Rich people = luxury cars, don't care about economy. 90% of that market For the remaining percentages, Small expensive cars come in two categories. 1. Hot/performance hatchbacks 90%, and 2. environmental statement vehicles 10%. The few Holywood millionaires that would trade their Prius for this to make a statement about how much they care for the environment is no justification for a production run. About the only way this kind of vehicle can make sense is if a large corporation (FedEx, government, etc) signed a contract to lease 10,000 for their employees. Or if the respective country's government were to heavily subsidize private leases/purchases as some kind of carbon trading scheme. The good news is Electrics can be much more affordable, and as fuel prices go up, so will availability of electric conversion kits for average cars. Meanwhile, with fuel prices as they are, the market will be rife with overpriced token electrics from every badge.
MG127
isn't it called "cradle to cradle"? "cradle to grave" is what we have now: producing and throw away. 100% recycling is what we want to achieve.
Brendan Dunphy
Its great to see BMW taking both electric vehicles and the 'cradle-to-cradle' concept seriously and I hope other OEM's follow suit. Yes, it is expensive as has been noted but then all innovative technologies are (my first mobile phone was approx $4,000 in 1990, approx $10,000 at today's prices!!) and the price will follow the usual curve. City councils around the world are providing free parking and charging for electric vehicles and it will not be long before petrol/diesels are banned from some central city areas. The initial high costs are a filip for car-sharing and pooling and are ushering in a new era of both formal and informal shared-ownership, short-term rental and other non-ownership schemes especially appealing to the young and those for whom a car is about transport and NOT status. The future has already arrived, and its electric!
BigGoofyGuy
I think it is way cool. I really like the design. If the price was lower, I would consider it for a future vehicle choice. It does not seem all that different from what BMW did with the Mini Cooper, it is really nice but the price is on the high side.
JPAR
BMW have almost cracked it - electric car for the masses? Oh dear, what's that? $50,000 you say? Ok, maybe I'll give it a miss and go buy a $10,000 Kia tin box.
barrettjet
Now this gets my interest. Quality and construction equal to modern aircraft. I would like to have seen more specs on the Range Extender, weight, passenger space, luggage storage size but all that is probably available elsewhere. I drive a Chevy Volt and have 45-40 electric miles available every day. That is almost always enough. I burned 1 quart of fuel last month for 744 mpg, TXU electricity is free 10pm-6am. The 2 gas burners stay parked most of the time. I prefer PHEV for now so that my range is unlimited but this BMW looks great and I will consider it for my next car/
Slowburn
I notice there is nothing about recycling the batteries after they fully wear out just reusing the ones that are worn beyond usefulness in a car. Even with the subsidy that reduces the price to US$51,000 when you add financing costs and the effects of inflation it won't save enough on 'fuel' to offset the high price. Although the general revenue taxes on fuel in Europe change how this looks the governments are not going to give up the revenue stream and the taxes will just be applied elsewhere. If the time energy and money had been put into producing a constant power high-output high-efficiency emission controlled sub-50cc engine with a less costly energy recovery system such as flywheel or pneumatic you would have a car that's price matches what its target costumers can pay without subsidies while reducing energy consumption more overall.
Don Duncan
Slowburn: Financing should not be a problem for the fiscally wise, e.g., if you can't pay cash, you can't afford it. I can afford the price but wouldn't buy it. I don't buy luxury cars either, and for the same reason: The value is not there, i.e., I won't pay 80% more for 10% more car. And the i3 is not even sexy like the i8. (For sexy I will pay a little more.) BMW is out front with this unique commitment to lightweight materials. Next they need to focus on aerodynamics. The trifecta would be using the latest techs such as "motor in wheel", drive by wire, and low resistance tires. I would break down and pay more for all that.
The Skud
Here goes 'Slowburn' again - always carping. Sub-50cc engine? Try hooking your whipper-snipper motor to a generating set and see what output you get! Most motor-in-wheel ideas so far have failed from excess unsprung weight. Drive by wire is meaningless, virtually all today's modern drivetrain/control circuits is drive by wire. Tyres?, any manufacturer will not deliberately use poor mileage tyres in today's climate and economy.
Slowburn
re; The Skud Do you really believe that getting 25hp out of a 40cc is impossible? The engine will be heavy for its rated power because it runs at the rated power constantly. It would also be diesel in operation if not fuel because of the high boost and compression. Purpose built for pneumatic drive it would also be crankless. The car normally operates on stored power and is not intended for long distant highway travel; it would however be better at it than these battery powered things.