How Volvo is becoming greener, according to sustainability chief Henrik Green – Autoblog | CarTailz

STOCKHOLM – This week Volvo unveiled its new flagship electric vehicle, the three-row SUV EX90. It’s not just a look at a product set to launch in 2024, but also a look at the approach Volvo is taking to becoming more sustainable as it aims to be fully electric by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040 At the unveiling of the EX90, we had the opportunity to speak with Henrik Green, Volvo’s representative for advanced technology and sustainability, during a panel discussion on the brand’s future climate strategy.

Part of the strategy is accountability and transparency. In an industry where sensitive materials like cobalt and lithium can be environmentally, socially and geopolitically problematic, traceability is paramount. Volvo will use blockchain technology – the same type of secure ledger technology that makes cryptocurrency possible – to track cobalt, lithium and nickel from their origins in the earth to the EX90s rolling off the factory floor. Green said he expects traceability to expand to more materials, but these three are what Volvo can commit to today. Green also predicts a time when “you, the consumer, should be able to see, ‘Here on my app, this is the car I bought, this is where my nickel that’s in my car comes from.'”

While the first step is improving transparency, “the next step — this is much more long-term — is how can we get the industry to source from as sustainable sources as possible?” And that leads us to recycling. The goal is a circular economy, where raw materials are used minimally and replaced with materials from old cars, batteries, electronics and the like. But that depends on the first generations of electric cars completing their life cycle before they can be recycled. And of course, the better the longevity of products like batteries, the longer this will last. “Unfortunately, there’s this built-in time delay of putting in batteries that live until they need to be replaced, and then we get the material back.”

Partners are beginning to look for these recyclable materials from sources like non-automotive electronics, “but the massive volume of car batteries won’t be accessible until those cars are 10, 15 or more years on the road.” However, recyclability is one of the key drivers that Volvo looks to when partnering with companies like Northvolt, with whom Volvo is building a factory and R&D center in Gothenburg, Sweden.

However, recycling is not just about batteries. The EX90 is Volvo’s most recycled car to date. 15% of the plastics are recycled, as is 15% of the steel and 25% of the aluminium. Volvo aims to expand this to 25% plastic, 25% steel and 40% aluminum in its cars by 2025, and significantly more by the 2040 target date for carbon neutrality. And Volvo is working to make its cars not just more recycled, but more recycledable to, allowing it to use more of its own materials in this circular production process. “The hard part of this is taking it apart and sorting it into mono-material bins,” Green said. “I assume that in the long term we will be designing cars here that are easier to disassemble and sort into pure material boxes. This is how we can really get the circular economy and circular business going.”

And if something is difficult to recycle, like plastic, Volvo is looking to increase the use of bio-based materials that are part of the EX90. Designers are the driving force, Green said, behind the move away from materials like leather and virgin plastics towards recycled, bio-based and natural materials. For example, the EX90’s Nordico upholstery is made from recycled materials like plastic bottles, and wool seating is also an option. The wood in the vehicle comes from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

In production, Volvo is also working quickly on climate neutrality there. While Volvo can easily control its own operations, Green says the next step is the supply chain. “That’s where we actually work the hardest” to get the Tier One, Tier Two, etc. suppliers up and running with climate-neutral electricity. Volvo aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its supply chain and internal operations by 25% by mid-decade. He acknowledges that this is a major challenge that comes with the move to electric propulsion, as manufacturing batteries is carbon-intensive. “So you build that load first and then you have to reduce it [it].”

Luckily, suppliers are coming into the program, and Volvo is seeing less resistance and more collaboration from them in aligning with its climate goals. But for those who drag their feet, Green said, “We have one very strong message, and in part we say it here [to the media] and we’re telling the world, and that’s how it’s reflected in discussions with suppliers.” Volvo has also introduced internal carbon pricing, with a tonne of carbon dioxide costing SEK 1,000 (about US$96), which is reflected in business discussions can include. “If you do your business comparison you can say that this ton of CO2 is SEK 1,000, here is the cost of poor quality, here is the cost of the part” to help find a balanced end cost. Volvo introduced this carbon price about a year ago, but Green would like to see it rise.

Another sustainability strategy that Volvo is pursuing is becoming more widely known: bi-directional charging. In this way, the vehicle can charge its battery not only for driving tasks, but also for emergency power supply at home, long-distance power supply and grid stabilization. Volvo announced that its EX90 will be its first product capable of bi-directional charging. The whole strategy is still evolving, but Volvo would offer a wallbox for home energy storage, and customers could get total prices for energy products and home installation from a Volvo dealer or a website, which would then be provided by Volvo’s partners would.

Finally, Green said, “you can really improve a city or a society when you work together” with energy companies. While renewable energy sources like sun and wind are intermittent, thousands of connected batteries can balance the grid when those sources aren’t delivering energy. “It’s a bit futuristic… but my personal view is that cars can become that resource that will help the world use less stable and sustainable power sources. To that end, we built bi-directional charging into the EX90.”

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