wind power and lithium from germany – this is how volkswagen wants to improve the carbon footprint of its e-cars
- VW already sells its e-cars as "balance sheet neutral". During the production of the ID.3 twice as much CO2 emitted as in the production of a golf.
- the main culprit is battery cells, whose raw materials are usually shipped around the world before they find their way into cars’ power storage units.
- VW is working to reduce the CO2 backpack of its hopefuls in the long term. The carmaker wants to produce the cells itself in europe, use lithium from the rhine rift valley and promote the expansion of renewable energies.
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After the diesel scandal, volkswagen’s image had reached a low point. The world’s second-largest automaker has an international reputation as a cheat and polluter. The wolfsburg team had no choice but to make a 180-degree turnaround in its model policy.
Thanks to the manipulations, the diesel had finally fallen out of favor with both politicians and a large proportion of customers. Matthias muller, but above all his successor, the current group CEO herbert diess, focused entirely on one technology – the electric drive – in bringing about this image change. Almost all major vehicle manufacturers have now committed themselves to the battery. However, when diess took the helm at VW in 2018, hybrid drives were still the maximum at most manufacturers.
CO2 emissions during production significantly higher
With the compact car ID.3 in 2019, VW became one of the first traditional carmakers to present a model that was developed from the ground up as an electric car. Last year, the technically closely related e-SUV ID followed.4. But even in 2021, more than 90 percent of volkswagen cars sold still have an internal combustion engine under the hood. In addition, even the volkswagen of the electric era are currently anything but climate-neutral. The energy-intensive production of lithium-ion batteries and the extraction of the necessary raw materials are the main sources of CO2 emissions.
At the beginning of the year, volkswagen published a study that once again highlighted this problem. Even before a new ID.3 is handed over to the customer, there are already CO₂ emissions of 13.7 tons. By way of comparison, a conventionally powered Golf produces 6.8 metric tons, or slightly less than half that amount. However, all manufacturers of electric cars have to contend with this problem. According to volvo, the production of an electric XC40 recharge emits seventy percent more carbon dioxide into the air than its gasoline-powered sister model.
Greenpeace is one of vw’s biggest critics
Despite the immense emissions in the supply chain and production, volkswagen delivers its two electric models to the supposedly environmentally conscious customer in a "balance sheet neutral" manner. The company from lower saxony wants to compensate for the CO₂ emitted by supporting reforestation projects in indonesia and purchasing emissions certificates.
Greenpeace, however, published a report last september in which the environmental organization questioned the effectiveness of these measures. on closer examination, the "katingan mentaya" forest protection project on Borneo, which is not supported by VW, does not have the necessary effect to justify advertising the electric cars as climate-neutral. greenpeace traffic officer benjamin stephan denounces the car company: "intact forests are important for protecting the climate, but that does not absolve VW of its responsibility to quickly reduce its own CO2 emissions."
The battery cells are to be manufactured in europe
At least to the outside world, it looks as if the people of wolfsburg have now understood that they have to tackle the problem themselves. in march, as part of the group’s own "power day", the construction of a total of six large battery cell factories was announced, which are to be scattered throughout europe and each produce an annual capacity of 40 gwh. Until now, the car giant has sourced the immensely important cells from South Korean and Chinese industry giants such as LG chem or CATL.
Since suppliers from the Far East supply almost all manufacturers of electric cars with the basic components and thus dominate the global market, VW feared supply bottlenecks and excessive economic dependence – especially on the People’s Republic of China. However, setting up its own cell production on its home continent not only ensures greater independence, but can also reduce the carbon footprint of the electricity storage facilities.
In this way, the car company has a better overview of the entire supply chain and can better trace the origin of the raw materials. The extraction of metals used in the cathode, such as lithium and cobalt, is still sometimes accompanied by major environmental damage and precarious working conditions. In order to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, however, the raw materials must also be processed locally.
In the next few years, more and more companies are planning to take on this topic – rock tech lithium, for example, is building a lithium refinery in guben, Brandenburg, Germany, which is scheduled to come on stream in 2024. Currently, however, the raw materials are mostly shipped to china from south america, australia and africa, generating a large share of CO2 emissions.
VW wants to source its lithium from germany
Ideally, the lithium contained in the lithium-ion batteries of the electric VWs would not only be processed in germany, but also mined in the federal republic of germany. The automaker announced on Wednesday that it has reached a supply agreement with the Australian company vulcan energy for the important raw material.
The german subsidiary of vulcan energy wants to extract the lightest metal from the thermal water of the upper rhine rift valley in Baden. A few months ago, there were still doubts as to whether it would even be financially worthwhile to extract the metal there at great expense. In addition, voices were raised saying that the quantity available there was too small. Vulcan energy, however, claims that the largest lithium deposit on the continent lies under the river.
Geothermal drying would also use the heat of the salty water and thus save energy. The remaining condensate can then be returned to the groundwater. The Rhenish lithium hydroxide is therefore climate-neutral and environmentally friendly. The agreement with VW includes a right of first refusal for the Wolfsburg-based company and is initially valid for five years. From 2026, vulcan energy is to supply volkswagen with the raw material. However, commercial production must first be established over the next few years. stellantis, renault and LG chem have also already secured supplies of the "white rhine gold".
Battery recycling effectively saves CO2
Like most of its competitors, volkswagen aims to achieve a high recycling rate for its e-car batteries in the long term. In the meantime, it is theoretically possible to recycle more than 90 percent of the raw materials contained in the lithium in such a way that they are almost as good as new and can be used without restrictions. VW is currently building a pilot plant in salzgitter, Lower Saxony, where the lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese are to be recovered.
However, it will be several years before a large number of e-cars reach the end of their life cycle. To start with, the carmaker expects to dismantle only around 3.600 electricity storage. From the end of the decade, this figure is expected to increase significantly.
wolfsburg is investing in wind and solar power
"only if e-cars are consistently charged with green electricity can e-mobility make an effective contribution to climate protection," said ralf brandstatter, head of the volkswagen brand, last wednesday. Battery-powered vehicles already have a certain advantage over gasoline or diesel engines with the current German electricity mix, but they will only become climate-neutral if more is invested in wind and hydroelectric power, as well as solar plants.
This is exactly what the carmaker from lower saxony is doing as part of its "way to zero" strategy. By the middle of the century, volkswagen, whose parent company is currently still one of the biggest drivers of climate change, wants to become completely CO2 neutral. The automaker has budgeted a total of 40 million euros to support the expansion of european wind and solar power by 2025.
The automaker has a long way to go
With the biggest of the supported projects it will start already at the beginning of next year. A new wind farm in the north of sweden is expected to generate 100 gwh of electricity per year, providing about 27.be able to supply power to 000 households. The fact that volkswagen’s support program is starting in sweden is anything but a coincidence. When it comes to pure e-cars, the German brand is the market leader in the Scandinavian country with a share of 20 percent.
A large solar plant is also scheduled to come online in mecklenburg-vorpommern before the end of 2022. In total, VW plans to invest in twenty more projects across europe with the same goal over the next three years. This is how the carmaker wants to provide seven additional terawatt hours of green electricity. Europe’s largest automaker is making an effort, at least outwardly, to make its business model more climate-friendly in the long run. In order for the carbon footprint to really be zero at some point, volkswagen will have to significantly increase its commitment once again and get rid of old burdens from the old car world.