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  6. From the well to the wheel

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From the well to the wheel

A holistic approach from start to finish: A vehicle’s environmental footprint reveals the sources of environmental pollution. Therefore, the analysis helps on the path to quickly achieving CO₂-neutral mobility.

Preparing a life cycle assessment is a time-consuming task that requires a complex and in-depth analysis of each component.

Those who wish to travel in an environmentally-friendly manner require a car with low fuel consumption, correct? Yes, but it’s not quite that simple. Of course, it does make sense to look at fuel consumption, but that is only one side of the coin. Sustainable mobility is complex. This especially applies at Volkswagen, which is pursuing the goal of becoming CO2-neutral. Decarbonization (see the box) is the key word behind the sustainability strategy.

Thinking holistically is imperative! And that means from vehicle development up to the required raw materials, from logistics to production, from the first kilometer to the last on the road, from deregistration to recycling. Moreover, experts refer to the carbon footprint, environmental balance or life cycle assessment (LCA). This is an ISO-standardized, systematic analysis of the environmental impact of the product throughout the entire life cycle. “We are not only thinking about the production and the use phase, but also the raw materials, precursors and suppliers, as well as the recycling,” explains Marko Gernuks, Head of Life Cycle Optimization.

From the well to the wheel: The life of a car is divided into three phases for the analysis. The production, use phase and recycling. The production has three sub-categories for which data is gathered: raw material extraction, component and vehicle production. The use phase is subdivided into fuel/electricity supply and vehicle emissions. Of course, recycling is also an important topic, for example the secondary usage of batteries or the processing and further use of valuable materials.

Creating a life cycle assessment is a time-consuming task that requires a complex and in-depth analysis of each (!) component. Marko Gernuks: “We take hundreds of factors into consideration, just to prepare a life cycle assessment for a tire. These are then found in 14 processes.” Volkswagen has an automated process specifically for the preparation, which only requires a limited amount of manual consolidation. “You quickly realize that compared to a Golf diesel, the e-Golf has a greater carbon footprint in terms of production, but wait: After 125,000 kilometers on the road, it surpasses its brother and has a lower carbon footprint.”

What happens with the findings that Volkswagen obtains from the life cycle assessment? “Once we know where the manufacturing hot spots are, then we are able to act and identify where the priorities are,” explains Gernuks.

It is also exciting to glance at the environmental balance of the new Volkswagen ID. Production of the vehicles will commence in 2019, thus marking the first time that brand will place an entirely CO2-neutral car on the roads. CO2-emissions will be consistently avoided or reduced from the beginning on, compensation for currently unavoidable emissions will additionally occur by means of climate protection projects.

The life cycle assessment helps to quickly identify hot spots during the manufacturing process: The battery system generates 40 percent of CO2 emissions. Therefore, it’s worth taking a closer look at this component and comparing it to other models. Optimization opportunities are rapidly revealed: Consistently using green power for producing batteries significantly reduces the environmental impact. 

Another particularly interesting aspect of the life cycle assessment is the use phase – even though no one from Volkswagen is personally behind the wheel. Marko Gernuks: “That’s why Volkswagen places an emphasis on e-mobility in terms of drive technologies, because from today’s standpoint, it is the best and most efficient way to achieve climate-neutral and clean mobility.” However, the electric car will only be as clean as the electricity that is used to charge it. “That’s why we are offering customers green power with our newly established subsidiary Elli – the abbreviation of Electric Life – which can be used to charge their ID cars.”

At the end of the car’s life is recycling. In this respect, Volkswagen is also committed to this complex field and doesn’t simply leave this up third-party companies. Volkswagen launched the research project LithoRec in 2009, for the purpose of attending to the recycling of lithium-ion batteries. “A pilot recycling facility is currently being established for lithium-ion batteries at the Volkswagen site in Salzgitter,” says Gernuks. “The goal is to optimize the process and to use salvaged raw materials to further reduce the carbon footprint connected with manufacturing of batteries.” The recycling is intended to close the loop.

The effectiveness of all measures aimed at CO2-reduction is reflected in a car’s life cycle assessment, but not only there: It is also included in what is referred to as the DCI, which stands for “Decarbonization Index”. This is of great importance for the entire Group, as it represents a key performance indicator for the “TOGETHER – Strategy 2025”, the vision of becoming one of the world’s leading providers of sustainable mobility. Volkswagen aims to sell at least one million electric cars per year by 2025. The entire Volkswagen Group is supposed to be CO2-neutral by 2050.

  • Decarbonization – What is it?

    The English term decarbonization specifically refers to the reduction of carbon. What this precisely means is the transition to an economic system that promotes the sustainable reduction of and compensation for carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). The long-range goal is to create a CO2-free global economy. In this context, car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, in addition to other economic sectors, must actively do their part. According to IPCC, the transport sector accounts for approximately 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – and this number is increasing. Michael Jost, Head of Strategy for the Volkswagen brand, recently stated: “The CO2 problem is the greatest global challenge.” Therefore, automobile manufacturers are called upon to act.

  • Paris Agreement

    What is the Paris Agreement? 

    At the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries agreed for the first time upon a general, legally binding and international climate change agreement. The agreement includes a global action plan, which aims to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius to counteract the dangerous climate change. The Paris Agreement serves as a bridge between current political strategies and the climate neutrality goal that is to be achieved before the end of the century. Volkswagen is taking action to achieve the goal of a climate-neutral society by 2050.

    Further information:

    Paris Agreement