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Keyren H. Cotter, D.Sc
Photograph courtesy of BMW

In my mind, sustainability refers to maintaining diverse biological systems. Maintaining ways to ensure the survival of humans and other organisms is at the core of sustainability. I've always found gardeners are very concerned about sustainability. With good reason, the earth is a gardener's canvas! Certainly, gardeners don't want to affect their canvas adversely, the centerpiece of their passion, their hobby, and their home.

I'm a gardener, a serious gardener. I am one now and have been for more years than I would like to admit. In my life, I feel that sustainability should be reflected not only in the way I garden but also in how I lead all aspects of my life. Accordingly, I've felt that the car I drive should also reflect these ideals. However, I've not heretofore found a vehicle that reflected my sustainability goals and me. Until now. I've just found the BMW i3 series, my next car.

How did I get here? Let me explain.

Electric cars or electric vehicles (EV) go way back. English inventor Thomas Parker allegedly built the first practical electrical vehicle in 1884. In the U.S., electric vehicles had a "mini golden age" in the early 1900's. In 1912 production in the U.S. of these vehicles peaked at 34,000, but by 1915 most companies had stopped making EV's. The reason - battery technology wasn't where it needed to be. 

Electric vehicles just won't go away. Why? It's been widely accepted that EV's are simpler. They don't need complex transmissions, liquid cooling or many other accessories. EV's are more efficient and most use approximately 90% of the power stored in their batteries vs. 30 + or - % for gas vehicles. In addition, EV's can be built for a fraction of the cost of gasoline-powered cars. The expense for EV's has been their batteries. I'll spare you the technical details but there have been dramatic advancements in batteries. The new battery types dramatically out-perform their predecessors so, electric vehicles now make sense.

However, over the past few years there have been many different options available, automotive manufacturers are constantly adding an electric vehicle to their lineup. But none of these have interested me. I just couldn't see myself driving these vehicles. That changed with the BMW i3. I suppose choosing a car is somewhat akin to selecting a new plant, and I relish finding, then buying new plants. A plant can have the right color, be able to grow in the conditions I need but it just doesn't excite me. I don't buy it. Why is that? I guess as usual, the devil is in the details. Let me share some of the BMW i3 specs.

BMW i is as innovative as the technology and renewable materials it's built with. It uses a wealth of innovative technologies-from design to production, even stretching past the useful life of the vehicle to its disposal. Every detail is based on sustainability. The BMW i3 uses extremely strong, yet lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) as its foundation. In Moses Lake, Washington, the factory uses hydroelectric power to produce CFRP components sustainably. The interior materials are made sustainably. As an example, eucalyptus wood is used throughout the dashboard and instrument panels. This timber is entirely grown in Europe and certified 100% sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council. This is not only practical but also efficient, guaranteeing shorter supply chains which further guarantees efficiency at all stages of production. 25% of the plastic used in the interior is comprised of recycled materials. The instrument panel and door trims are made from Kenaf (a warm season annual fiber crop closely related to cotton) plant fibers. Olive-leaf extract is used to tan interior leather surfaces. The vehicles are assembled in Leipzig, Germany, which uses wind generated electricity. I could go on but was requested to keep it short - still you get the point.

The BMW i3 is functional in many different ways. For example, from the outside, this vehicle seems rather compact but with the rear seats folded, it provides over 30 cubic feet of space. That is ample space for me to get my gardening supplies on board and, importantly, with a carbon footprint coming and going, something I can be proud of. Plus, it's a BMW. It's fun to drive.

BMW has set for itself the goal of reducing emissions while increasing driving pleasure. The BMW i3 aims to take driving to an entirely new dimension. One can now envision a day where tailpipe emission free vehicles are a standard way of life. The -i3 boasts 170 horsepower, up to 81 miles* total range and can be fully charged in approximately 3.5 hours**. For those that think the on-board battery pack capability doesn't provide enough range, it can be ordered with an optional two cylinder, 650 cc gasoline range extender, travels up to 150 miles*. But it's important to note this engine never drives the wheels, making the i3 the only true series hybrid on sale today.

And charging electric vehicles is much easier than even a few years ago. A home charging station can be installed at your home with little effort. For those that want to live off the grid, BMW partnered with SolarCity to offer BMW i3 owners a discount on seamless solar panel installations. There are public charging stations now available in most localities. There is in-vehicle information, even an app that pinpoints the nearest public charging station. I'm looking forward to recharging, and importantly not using petroleum products.

Well, I'm getting a little long winded. But I'm excited about the BMW i3. To me this is truly the future of driving; this is forward thinking technology. It's the future of mobility. And for gardeners, like me, interested in sustainability, it's the perfect vehicle.

ABOUT DR. COTTER: Dr. Cotter (Casey) is an aerospace engineer who loves to travel, garden and, importantly for GardenSMART, is an excellent garden communicator. Casey planted his first peppers, cucumbers and carrots in Connecticut at the age of 12. Since then his work has taken him across the country yet he has remained an active, engaged gardener at every stop. He now resides in Texas, which presents its own unique gardening challenges, which to him, means rewards. Writing about engineering issues, gardeners and gardening is somewhat unique but a marriage of two very important disciplines in Casey's life. Thanks for your input and article Dr. Cotter.

Sustainability - Sustainability and BMW i - BMW North America
*EPA rated
**7kW at 240v

Posted November 14, 2014

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