Moses Lake, situated on the Columbia River Basin, Washington, is the water sports capital of the Northwest, as well a great place to run. That’s why it’s a favorite spot for our family vacation. But it turns out Moses Lake is also a perfect place to build a manufacturing facility. Why? Because of the vast and relatively cheap hydropower generated by the Columbia River.
In September of last year BMW, in partnership with carbon-based products manufacturer SGL Group, opened a new plant which will produce carbon fibers for BMW cars.
BMW, like other big car manufactures, is investing heavily in green practices and products. Traditional steel-welded passenger compartment are being replaced with lightweight, yet incredibly strong carbon fiber.
Steel welding is expensive, and making a car from carbon fiber is a nice way to cut out those costs, but the manufacture of carbon fiber itself can be pricey, and that’s where the Columbia River comes in.
Carbon fiber—like that used in the BMW i3—begins its manufacturing life in Japan. The unfinished material is then shipped to the Washington plant where it’s treated at high temperatures—800 to 1,300 degrees Celsius—and converted into carbon fiber.
This heating process requires an immense amount of energy and is therefore expensive, but, BMW told Forbes, the company saves 15.7 cents per kwh of electricity on the Columbia River compared to the cost of the same process in Germany. The carbon fiber is then shipped back to Germany for assembly.
BMW is convinced that its new plant will not only reap cost-saving benefits but it’s also a move towards sustainability and environmental responsibility.
“This is very important to us,” BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer told The Seattle Times. “At the BMW Group, we are thinking about sustainable mobility for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We believe environmental responsibility extends beyond the car itself to the entire value chain.”
BMW is not the first manufacturer to locate next to the Columbia River and not the first to discover the benefits of hydropower.
Emissions-free, renewable, efficient and reliable, hydropower has several advantages for manufacturers. It provides more energy than oil and other fossil fuels and there’s generally no ramp-up time needed like in combustion technologies. Hydro can quickly increase or decrease the amount of power it generates to accommodate shifting demand, and lessens the chances of blackouts. It also produces “storable” electric.
Do you think there’s a future in hydropower for manufacturing? Can major industries, like automotive and aerospace, benefit from hydropower?
- Read more about how the US Army Corps of Engineers Deploys Complex Math along the Columbia River