Focus on circular economy: sustainable into 2040

7 min reading time
Focus on sustainability: BMW is putting a clear focus on circularity principles for the future. How it works, potential savings in CO2 emissions, and why this means absolutely no sacrifice in luxury – find out all about it here.

19 November 2021

Thanks to the engineers, scientists and experts at BMW, we can beam ourselves into the year 2040: the BMW i Vision Circular (➜ Visit also the RE:BMW Circular Lab) shows BMW’s vision of how a compact, fully electric car with a consistent focus on sustainability and luxury could look in the future. As the name suggests, its design mantra is in line with the principles of the circular economy.

Consistently pursuing a circular economy is the key to a more sustainable future.

But exactly what does the circular economy mean? Many resources are limited, so the economy as a whole must radically change from the linear “take, make, waste” principle to a true circular economy where nothing goes to waste. The circular economy’s aim is that existing materials and products are maintained, recycled, repaired and shared for as long as possible. This philosophy sustainably protects the environment.

CO2 emissions must be significantly reduced

Reduction of CO2 emissions over the entire life cycle of a vehicle is the BMW Group’s top priority on its quest for climate neutrality. This is because what a vehicle consumes and emits while it is being driven is not the only important factor. The before and after are equally important. So how is it even possible to produce vehicles with a minimal footprint on the environment, and what happens when they are disposed of? The principles of the circular economy provide a vision here for a future in which vehicles are made entirely from secondary materials and are designed from the outset with disassembly and optimal recycling in mind. Vehicles such as the BMW i Vision Circular.

Sustainability as a fundamental element

The BMW Group aims to be completely CO2 neutral no later than 2050: from energy requirements through the supply chain and production right up to the use and disposal cycles. To achieve this, vehicles must be designed to be as resource-efficient as possible as early as the production phase (➜ Read also: This is how BMW produces cars sustainably). This relates to the energy used in manufacturing and extends to the use of recycled materials. For example, BMW Group plants around the world already use 100 percent green electricity. The circularity within supply chains is also always checked. Where important raw materials have to be used for battery production, such as cobalt or lithium, they are never sourced from conflict regions and the amount of material used is kept to a bare minimum.

Energy consumption per vehicle produced has also been reduced by 55 percent since 2006. But even this is not enough: CO2 emissions are to be reduced by 40 percent by 2030. This equates to around 200 million metric tons of CO2. This applies to the entire life cycle of BMW Group vehicles – including production, recycling and the entire value chain. Sustainability will be the core element that shapes everything the BMW Group does.

BMW aspires to become the most sustainable manufacturer of solutions for individual mobility.

Investments for the environment

An important element of this strategy is to offer a fleet of innovative battery-powered vehicles in various classes: By 2025, 25 percent of all BMW vehicles will be electric models (➜ Read also: These are our electric car types), rising to 50 percent by 2030. Speaking of e-cars: High-voltage batteries are currently 90 percent recyclable. BMW Group cars, on the other hand, are 95 percent recyclable. For example, disposed material can be recycled and secondary aluminum or secondary steel extracted and then reused, as is the case with the BMW i Vision Circular presented at the IAA 2021.

This is significantly more environmentally friendly and less CO2-intensive than extracting and producing primary material. An average of just under 30 percent of BMW Group vehicles are currently made from recycled and reused materials. But BMW is setting its sights even higher: the “Secondary First” approach is intended to gradually expand this figure to 50 percent. BMW only uses freshly-mined raw materials if there really is no alternative. BMW aspires to become the most sustainable car manufacturer ever.

5 facts about the BMW i Vision Circular

  1. Circular economy is the top priority
  2. The 4 principles of circular design: RE:THINK, RE:DUCE, RE:USE, RE:CYCLE
  3. Minimalism is the maximum goal
  4. Sustainability joined with luxury
  5. Electric drive with bi-directional charging

Setting clear goals for the future

The BMW i Vision Circular provides a taster of what the BMW Group’s further circular future could look like. “The BMW i Vision Circular demonstrates the comprehensive and consistent thinking we put into sustainable mobility. It represents our ambition to be a pioneer in the development of a circular economy,” explains BMW CEO Oliver Zipse. He goes on to explain: “We want to extend our leading position in resource efficiency in production to the entire life cycle of our vehicles.”

Circular design – the 4 principles

RE:THINK

Figuratively speaking: no stone was left unturned. The vision vehicle and, above all, the manufacturing process, including material cycles, were rethought, developed and optimized from the ground up.

RE:DUCE

Reduction wherever possible: in the use of materials as well as in the control elements using digitization as the way forward. This protects the environment, saves costs and reduces distractions for the driver.

RE:USE

With the goal of extending the life cycle through remanufacturing and redesign. Easily detachable connections make it much easier to replace individual materials and components, creating the opportunity to reinvent the vehicle again and again.

RE:CYCLE

The focus in terms of the materials used is on recycled materials that are destined to be reused again at the end of their product life cycle. The key to effective recycling is a small number of different material groups made of monomaterials whose interconnective components can also be easily separated.

The overarching design goal in the development process of the study was to design a vehicle that is optimized for closed material loops and hits the 100 percent recycled materials or 100 percent recyclability mark. Materials that have already passed through a product life cycle are also used in addition to bio-based raw materials. This also applies to energy storage, for example: The BMW i Vision Circular’s solid-state battery is completely recyclable and made almost entirely from materials that come from the recycling loop.

We addressed circularity systematically from the very outset of the design process of the BMW i Vision Circular
Adrian van Hooydonk

Head of BMW Group Design

Design: never before seen like this

The BMW i Vision Circular also breaks completely new ground in terms of design – as the design of the kidney grille alone demonstrates (➜ Read also: The story of the BMW kidney grille). Instead of a chrome frame with bars, the kidney grille is displayed as a digital surface. This means the kidney grille surfaces themselves can extend across the entire width of the front, combining the headlights and kidney grille into a single element. At the same time, the kidney grille surfaces become a graphic interface. In future, digital representation could eliminate the need for geometric variants in lights and bumpers, helping to save on materials and tooling. The BMW i Vision Circular needs no other added trim elements to define its pedigree. Even the brand emblem (➜ Read also: The History of the BMW Logo) is engraved in the front and the vehicle lettering is lasered to avoid unnecessary add-on parts.

BMW has always understood how to resolve apparent contradictions in its products.
Domagoj Dukec

Head of BMW Design

The art of omission: sustainability and luxury are not mutually exclusive

The paint finish was also deliberately omitted in the BMW i Vision Circular. Instead, the body was anodized in light gold from secondary aluminum. The heat treatment utilized here creates a special hue. The benefits of omission: The raw material aspect of the metals is preserved for optimum recyclability. All the display surfaces and light functions in the rear are invisibly integrated into the dark glass tailgate in the same way as the front. The aerodynamically optimized bumper below is also made of visibly recycled plastic and completes the rear design. Of course, circularity does not stop with the tires either. These are made from sustainably grown natural rubber.

The number of different materials is kept to a minimum.

BMW is also relentlessly pursuing the path of circularity in the interior – without losing sight of passengers’ needs. Because conscious material selection (➜ Read also: Sustainable material selection) and luxury are not mutually exclusive. The technical material solutions include utilizing monomaterials, as well as joining them without bonding to ensure easy dismantling and grade purity. Instead, the study uses clever connection solutions, such as cords, buttons and quick-release fasteners. All components and materials are manufactured to fit precisely and minimize scrap and offcuts, including using 3D printing processes. And any surplus that remains is systematically returned to the material cycle.

Only the best for passengers

The display and control surface that are seen in the exterior below the windows also appears inside as a connecting element between the interior and exterior. Having a similar look to the instrument panel and ambient lighting, this integrates functions such as window buttons, door openers and even the operation of the sun glass in the roof. And circularity was also in mind with this part: This is the only electronic component in the doors when they are disassembled, and can simply be removed as an entire module and separated by type.

The BMW i Vision Circular represents our ambition to be a pioneer in the development of a circular economy.
Oliver Zipse

CEO of BMW AG

The large rear bench seat in the back is slightly raised. The headrests act as pillows and speakers are mounted underneath so each seat gets its own sound zone. Direct sound control means fewer components and easier system removal. The seat textile is, of course, made of 100 percent recycled material. An excellent example of RE:USE can be found in the C-pillar: A glass iDrive controller of a BMW iX (➜ Read more: Electric right from the start) gets a new lease on life with a new function as a luminaire.

The Neue Klasse will be an initial, big step

On top of these material and design innovations, the BMW i Vision Circular also offers the option of using bidirectional charging (➜ Read also: All you need for charging e-Cars). The vehicle thus acts as a mobile power storage unit and releases energy to its surroundings such as buildings or infrastructure. It can even feed power into the grid to help flatten out peaks.

Speaking of the e-car: BMW announced some time ago that it would be launching a new Neue Klasse (➜ Read also: Top class thanks to the Neue Klasse) onto the market. This will take on board many of the ideas that the BMW i Vision Circular has brought onto the agenda. Zipse underlines this: “We will be taking the next big step in this process with the Neue Klasse. We are following the BMW i Vision Circular mindset in developing the Neue Klasse in sustainability.” Above all, this means that those who just can’t wait for all these technological innovations do not have to wait until 2040 to sample them.

What is the BMW i Vision Circular?

The BMW i Vision Circular is a vision vehicle from the automobile manufacturer BMW and gives a foretaste of the year 2040. The car was presented to the public at the IAA 2021. The focus of this concept car is on sustainability and luxury. It consistently followed circular economy principles in its design with the intent to reduce CO2 emissions.

Author: Nils Arnold; Photos: BMW

THE BMW i VISION CIRCULAR

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