As Porsche, BMW, and Volvo move toward becoming fully electric, replacing plastic with flax fiber is playing a key role in reducing their environmental footprints.
Flax fiber could just be the plastic-free future for lightweight cars, according to Volvo, BMW, and Porsche. The three luxury brands are all investing in Bcomp, a Swiss manufacturer of flax fiber material dubbed AmpliTex.
The flax-based material is lighter than its plastic counterparts, but it also requires less energy and produces fewer emissions.
The material was on display in the recent Volvo Cars Concept Recharge. The lower storage areas, headrest back, and footrest were all made from the flax as were both bumpers and the sill moldings.
Porsche used the flax fiber in its 2020 racecar, added it to the Mission R concept, and created the first competition motorsport door in 2019. BMW has been using it in its racecars since 2019.
Bcomp’s flax fiber AmpliTex
Bcomp says it recently raised $35 million with the goal of bringing its flax composite to scale for mass-market introduction. Volvo, Porsche, and BMW both announced investments into the company.
“The strong interest from our targeted large-scale mobility markets is clear,” Christian Fischer, Bcomp CEO, said in a statement.
The Volvo Cars Tech Fund’s investment into Bcomp is part of its shift to an all-electric and more sustainable fleet. The move is part of Volvo’s 2040 target for becoming climate neutral for both its cars and its offshoot, Polestar, which has a 2030 target.
“Volvo Cars is actively exploring the use of natural fiber composites in its next generation of pure electric cars, while its strategic affiliate Polestar also aims to use Bcomp’s materials in forthcoming models,” it said.
Volvo’s investment into Bcomp builds on recent commitments to shift away from traditional materials. Last year it announced it would replace animal-based leather in all of its EVs with more sustainable vegan materials.
“This investment is yet another example of our commitment to sustainability and strategic focus on reducing our carbon footprint,” said Alexander Petrofski, Head of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund. “We have a long tradition of partnering with leading technology firms such as Bcomp, as we see joint benefits in helping them to scale and develop innovative products in global markets.”
The road to carbon neutral
Volvo is working to cut its lifetime emissions by 40 percent over 2018 numbers on every model by 2025. Polestar says it can build a completely carbon neutral car by 2030—and without offsets, which CEO Thomas Ingenlath has called “a cop-out.”
“By pushing ourselves to create a completely climate-neutral car, we are forced to reach beyond what is possible today. We will have to question everything, innovate, and look to exponential technologies as we design towards zero.”
BMW said it’s expanding into the field of sustainable and “resource-efficient” manufacturing with its BMW i Ventures investment into Bcomp, now an official BMW M Motorsport partner on the M4 GT4 racing car. The luxury automaker says it’s also setting up a “development alliance” to increase its renewable raw materials for components in future vehicle models. Last year, the German automaker partnered with cactus leather manufacturer Desserto to develop sustainable interiors.
“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. “We are delighted to have Bcomp on board as an official BMW M Motorsport partner for the BMW M4 GT4 project.”
BMW says its use of AmpliTex reinforcements offer a carbon-neutral option that reduces plastic use by 70 percent and reducing CO2 emissions by 75 percent. ” The result is more sustainable vehicle components, whose ductile fracture properties have the additional benefit of increasing safety,” the automaker said. BMW Group has a 2030 target to reduce vehicles’ lifecycle carbon emissions by more than 40 percent compared to 2019 levels.
“In order to reduce carbon emissions across its entire fleet, the BMW Group isn’t just focusing on the use phase — it is also paying attention to energy-saving processes during manufacture,” explains Florian Preuß, senior vice president, development complete vehicle, at the BMW Group. “Innovative material selection and composition are an important step here as we move towards climate neutrality.”
Porsche has been using bio-based fibers for years in its racing cars, says team manager Thomas von Löwis. “Now Porsche and Bcomp have developed a perfect sustainable product just in time for the 24h race.”
According to Bcomp, it has been working closely with Porsche for years to develop the low-impact fiber parts, using the same technology and molds as carbon fiber, just with a sustainable material that reduces the overall environmental footprint and costs.
“This project shows in an impressive way that natural fibres can easily replace carbon fibre in many motorsport applications,” says Bcomp’s Motorsports Manager Johann Wacht.
“Now is the time to scale our production and deploy our global strategy,” says Fischer. “We are very excited to open this new chapter with the great support of our new partners, developing Bcomp as the global leader of sustainable lightweight material solutions, and making our contribution to the circular economy.”