MAI Carbon Cluster Management GmbH, a partner of BMW & Audi, says production costs of carbon fiber could soon be lowered by 90 percent. Their $102 million research project is backed by Germany’s federal government and more than 70 business and research institutions hoping to reduce carbon fiber production costs.

Currently, production using carbon fiber costs 20 times higher than using the same amount of steel. However, more and more OEMs are looking to alternative materials for lighter cars to meet stringent fuel standards. Less expensive carbon fiber allows manufacturers to drop their costs significantly while decreasing the fuel consumption of their cars and therefore cutting down on CO2 emissions.

Head of the project Klaus Drechsler says they have reached the halfway point and “we’ll see a lot more carbon fiber use in the next generation of cars.” BMW’s head of development Herbert Diess announced that besides the i3 and i8, the next generation 7-Series could also employ carbon fiber. This could shave off as much as 200 kg (440 lbs). The research will continue until at least 2017.

“The key is to really drive automation” in production, Drechsler says. “There are different scenarios about how carmakers can use carbon fiber — extensively like BMW, with a carbon-fiber chassis, or with smaller components.”