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  6. The Volkswagen Group Leads the Way in Phasing Out Coal

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The Volkswagen Group Leads the Way in Phasing Out Coal

“The Volkswagen Group is aware of its responsibility to help curb climate change and contribute to improving the air quality on a local level.”

Matthias Müller

The Wolfsburg site will fully rely on natural gas for its power and heat generation in the future, which will reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 60 percent.
This represents the largest single environmental measure in the history of the Volkswagen Group and a pioneering move towards coal-free production. Both Group-owned power plants at the site in Wolfsburg, Germany, will be running entirely on natural gas by 2022. The modernization measures and the move away from hard coal will cut annual CO2 emissions by 1.5 million tons. This corresponds to a reduction of close to 60 percent at the Wolfsburg site or, to make the figure more tangible, the combined annual CO2 emissions of 870,000 cars. For the entire Group, this translates into a global CO2 reduction of 15 percent.

“The reconstruction project will allow us to sustainably generate power and heat in an eco-friendly manner at the Wolfsburg site, which will also benefit the city of Wolfsburg as a whole,” said Michael Heinemann, Spokesman of the Board of Directors at VW Kraftwerk GmbH, when announcing the decision on Thursday at ‘Autostadt’ Wolfsburg. Following reconstruction at the Wolfsburg site, fuel consumption is set to drop by 33 percent, not least owing to the much higher efficiency of gas over coal.

The modernization package decided by the Group’s directors includes the construction of multiple gas and steam turbine plants that will replace the existing coal-fired boilers. The investment amounts to about 400 million euros, and the new plant is scheduled to go online between 2021 and 2022. 

“The Volkswagen Group is aware of its responsibility to help curb climate change and contribute to improving the air quality on a local level,” said CEO Matthias Müller in explanation of the decision to phase out coal in Wolfsburg. “It is for these reasons that we are pushing the electrification of our vehicles while at the same time making traditional engines cleaner and more efficient. This also entails setting new, ambitious goals for production. We are dedicated to reducing the entire environmental load of the Volkswagen Group by 45 percent in 2025 as compared with 2010.” The move from coal to gas at the Wolfsburg flagship plant can be seen as a clear confirmation of this agenda and a major step in implementing it. “Many more will follow,” added Müller. 

According to the plans for reconstruction, the “coal boilers in the north/south cogeneration plants will be replaced with a gas and steam turbine system as well as three high-temperature boilers. These new plants alone will generate approx. 135 megawatts of electrical power and approx. 386 megawatts of thermal power. In addition, the present coal yard located next to ‘cogeneration plant west’ will make way for further gas and steam turbine plants with a projected capacity of 288 megawatts of electrical power and 260 megawatts of thermal power. Provided that regulatory authorities grant the required approvals and that detailed planning and tendering proceed as planned, construction may commence as early as 2018.
“Should a technology for the cost-efficient production of synthetic natural gas emerge in the future, for instance, one based on power-to-gas systems, we could even achieve complete CO2 neutrality. This would represent a viable long-term complement to the shift to renewable energy sources,” said Michael Heinemann on behalf of Kraftwerk GmbH on Thursday.
However, carbon dioxide is not the only substance that the new plants will cut radically: Water consumption, waste generation, and all other emissions will also be reduced by a significant margin, around 50 percent on average.  This will go a long way towards minimizing pollution on a local level.
The two Wolfsburg-based plants provide most of the power consumed at the Wolfsburg, Emden, Hanover, Kassel, Braunschweig, and Salzgitter sites (all in Germany) of Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, and the Volkswagen components plants. Moreover, they generate heat for the plant and the city of Wolfsburg.

As regards the four brick chimneys of the north/south cogeneration plants, these landmarks of the Wolfsburg plant will continue to reach for the sky after reconstruction. In fact, their number is set to rise: Two additional chimneys measuring about 64 meters will be built in their midst.