From humble beginnings, Switzerland’s Bcomp has become a leader in natural fibre composites for sustainable lightweighting. Its solutions are found in sports and motorsports through to automotive interiors and luxury sailing yachts.
The company started back in 2011 as a garage project with a mission to create lightweight yet high performance skis. The founders, material science PhDs, used flax fibres to reinforce the balsa cores and improve shear stiffness.
Auto Futures has been talking to Christian Fischer, Bcomp’s CEO.
Impressed by the mechanical properties of flax fibres, the development of sustainable light-weighting solutions for the wider mobility markets began.
“Motorsports made a logic first step to enter the mobility market from the sports sector; with rapid implementation of new technologies and high-performance requirements. In 2018 the first cars raced with Bcomp bodywork,” says Fischer.
The company’s proprietary reinforcement technologies ampliTex and powerRibs are used for making light and stiff composites that enable the reduction of environmental impact.
“While ampliTex™ works like a traditional reinforcement fabric, the powerRibs™ reinforcement grid mimics the veins on a leaf and boost stiffness of a thin-walled shell element while adding minimal weight,” explains Fischer.
The materials enable up to 50% weight reduction, 60% CO2 reduction and 70% reduction of plastic in for example automotive interior panels. This is achieved through dematerialisation – less materials is needed to maintain the performance; and by replacing traditional materials with more sustainable raw materials.
“Bcomp supports its customers with class-leading engineering, from first ideas and reverse engineering of existing parts to the implementation of final parts in production,” says Fischer.
In 2019 BMW began testing and validating Bcomp’s technologies in leading motor racing categories. The same year, Baltic Yachts announced the 68-foot Caféracer with a hull in ampliTex, and McLaren F1 used the ampliTex and powerRibs for racing seats.
Working With Volvo
Volvo Cars first worked with Bcomp in 2018 for the Volvo Ocean Race Recycled Plastics Demonstrator Vehicle, followed by its most recent concept car, the Volvo Cars Concept Recharge in 2021.
“The Volvo Cars Concept Recharge demonstrates the steps Volvo Cars intends to take in all areas of pure electric car development to reduce its cars’ and its overall carbon footprint. Inside the Volvo Cars Concept Re-charge, Volvo Cars have used Bcomp’s natural fibre composites for the lower storage areas, back of the headrest and the footrest. For the exterior, it is used for the front and rear bumpers as well as the sill mouldings,” says Fischer.
Volvo Cars is now actively exploring the use of natural fibre composites in its next generation of pure electric cars. In addition, Volvo Cars’ strategic affiliate Polestar aims to adopt Bcomp materials for most of the interior panels of the Polestar 5, the production evolution of the Polestar Precept, which is expected to be launched in 2024.
From Micromobility to Mass Transit
Bcomp’s technologies are suitable for many different types of transport. For example, the Italian advanced engineering company, YCOM, has developed a racing e-scooter called the S1-X. It uses Bcomp’s natural fibre composites to create the S1-X’s aerodynamic bodywork.
“Applications like this continue to demonstrate the versatility of natural fibre composites and the potential our technology has to help decarbonise mobility and motorsport,” says Fischer.
Structural parts such as boat hulls or motorsport crash boxes are also proven applications.
“Ongoing projects in the aerospace and other mass transportation sectors give a hint to what is still to come. Our mission is to reduce the environmental impact of mobility. Thus, we are aiming for the large-scale mobility markets in general and more specifically the automotive market as a first step,” he adds.
Bcomp’s technologies can help companies reduce CO2 emissions in many different ways. Fischer says the company combines the best of two worlds. it offers advantages in both the use phase (light-weight) and in the building and end of life phases (renewable raw materials).
“Lightweighting reduces the energy required during the use phase of for example a car, by reducing the weight that must be moved.” he says. “We also use renewable raw materials – flax are natural fibres – that sequester CO2 while they grow and are thus carbon negative cradle-to-gate. The fibres replace for example plastic, carbon or glass fibres that are CO2-intense to produce. At the end of life, incineration with cogeneration allows for efficient thermal and electrical energy recovery from biomass.”
Bcomp Plans to Grow Its Team And Scale The Business
In April 2022, Bcomp announced it had raised USD 35 million in a Series B financing round. Its investors consist of automotive venture capital from BMW i Ventures, Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Porsche Ventures, alongside Airbus Ventures, Generali, and existing investors
“The new funding will help to further grow the team with key talent and scale the business to a global commercial and production footprint, maximising our sustainability impact. As we start supplying into automotive programs, we will locate new production facilities to minimise transport,” says Fischer.
Finally, we asked Fischer what sustainable transport will be like by the end of the decade.
“It would be easy to point towards the rapidly ongoing electrification of the automotive market. But sustainable transport reaches beyond just the automotive sector and one of the major drivers for sustainability in all transport sectors is lightweighting. Making cars, trains and planes lighter is the most effective way of reducing their energy consumption, regardless of how they are powered. Also, using less material, and materials that are more sustainable is key,” he answers.
“By 2030 sustainable high-performance materials should be the norm and we are moving away from fossil-based materials wherever possible while also making sure that materials used, reused, and recycled for as long as possible, and take care of as efficiently as possible at end of life. For example, Volvo Cars are one of the first to put a price on CO2. This will be more common. OEMs and in turn their suppliers will to a much greater extent be held responsible for their impact,” concludes Fischer.