2. Sustainability
  3. Circular economy
  4. Recycling

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All things must come to an end – even the life of a Volkswagen. But in keeping with the life cycle principle, a Volkswagen’s life goes on – at least in part. Every Volkswagen contains many valuable raw materials which – ingeniously recycled – can be re-used. It’s called resource cycle management and to make sure it works, back at the development stage of a new vehicle, we already give thought to its end-of-life recycling.

Don’t scrap it, remanufacture it

Picture: MAN

Let’s say you’re thinking of buying a new bike. Which of the following two options would you think is better for the environment: to professionally remanufacture a high-quality pre-owned bike, or to manufacture a brand-new one from scratch?

As you might expect – the remanufactured bike is a much better option from the environmental point of view. It doesn’t require any extraction and processing of new resources, while transportation and distribution requirements are greatly reduced too – all of which cuts costs. And the great news is that the same principle that works for bikes also delivers big benefits when applied to the auto industry.

Take commercial vehicle manufacturer MAN, for example: Under its MAN Genuine parts ecoline scheme, MAN Truck & Bus takes back used engines and 55 other product groups based on a deposit-and-return system. If these parts are found to be reusable they are professionally remanufactured, then sold on to customers looking for an attractively priced repair option. This has big environmental benefits. Because remanufacturing not only cuts costs by approximately 30 % per component, it also reduces energy consumption by 80 %, while the reduction in resource use is higher still.

Remanufacturing comprises the following steps: First of all the returned used items are dismantled into their component parts and thoroughly cleaned. All surfaces are then measured using special equipment – because top performance depends on correct dimensions. Following this a variety of machining operations are performed, such as grinding and polishing. The finished remanufactured parts are then inspected using the same test equipment used for newly manufactured products. MAN then offers the products which pass this inspection with the same warranty as a new product – but with a much lower price tag. Approximately 3,900 remanufactured products are currently offered under this initiative – from turbochargers, differentials, coolant pumps and alternators to cylinder heads.  

Costs, resource use and energy consumption reduced by 30 percent.


The future is renewable

One of Volkswagen’s aims is to conserve resources. With this in mind, one thing that Volkswagen focuses on is the use of sustainable resources such as renewable raw materials. The objective is to reduce CO2 emissions over the entire vehicle life cycle, and the materials used include flax, hemp, cellulose, cotton and kenaf.

Kenaf? That’s right. Kenaf is a tropical plant belonging to the mallow family. Its cane-like stems grow to a height of four meters, and the fine fibers that are extracted from them go to produce the door trim of the current Golf, for example. Other applications of renewable raw materials include armrests, floor insulation, trunk linings, door and side panel trim and hood insulation.

Another form of sustainable materials are what are known as secondary raw materials. These are recyclates that are made from production residues or waste material. Recycled plastics are used in spare wheel compartment covers, floor coverings or wheel arch inserts, for instance. Approximately one third of the gross weight of many Volkswagen brand vehicles is already accounted for by recycled metal and oil-based materials.

The objective: reducing CO₂ emissions over the entire vehicle life cycle.

Volkswagen AG

Battery 2.0: Power out of the box

Porsche has developed a stationary energy storage system using decommissioned batteries from electric cars.

High-voltage batteries in electric cars are expensive and contain valuable raw materials; as a result, they are designed for a very long lifetime. After many years of service, however, they can lose a small proportion of their performance capability. A similar decline in battery performance from a smartphone or tablet would barely register with most users, but an electric car’s batteries have to be replaced when they’re past their best. So what to do with the raw materials, which may now be unusable for an electric car but remain of significant value?

Porsche has teamed up with Swedish company Box of Energy to develop a solution that involves recommissioning used batteries as energy storage systems.

The carmaker set about dismantling two used batteries from a Panamera G1 II (End of production: 2016) and installing the individual modules in a prototype stationary storage unit with 18 KWh capacity. This can be used as a source of power in the home or to charge a hybrid or electric car.

All of which is good news for the environment: Reutilizing batteries that retain only part of their storage capacity prolongs their service life. And that helps to conserve valuable resources. At the end of their life cycle, these interim storage units too are recycled in a process that enables the raw materials to be reutilized almost entirely in new batteries.

Another advantage for the environment is that not only power from the mains but also energy from renewable resources – such as a home’s photovoltaic system – can be stored in the box. 

Saving money and resources through efficient recycling


Managing the aluminum cycle

An aluminum component at Audi. This material is some two-thirds lighter than steel.

Aluminum is an important staple of the automotive industry when it comes to lightweight design, but it is more energy-intensive to produce than steel. To address this issue, Audi is currently testing an innovative recycling concept designed to conserve resources.

Together with a supplier, Audi recently rolled out the Aluminum Closed Loop pilot project to identify the potential for more efficient recycling of aluminum. The aim is to set up a closed-loop recycling system between the company and its suppliers.

It works like this: Offcuts from the sheet aluminum used in the Audi press shops are returned directly to the supplier, who recycles them. The resulting secondary raw materials are then used by Audi in its production process, eliminating the need for energy-intensive production of new aluminum, which in turn benefits the environment. The bottom line is that Audi not only reduces its energy consumption, and therefore its CO₂ emissions, but at the same time also cuts its uptake of primary raw materials. To define the system requirements and constraints, Audi is currently analyzing all the relevant process steps. On this basis the company will then explore the potential for using the system across the Group.

The thinking behind the development of innovative processes like the Aluminum Closed Loop is explained by Dr. Bernd Martens, responsible for procurement on the Audi Board of Management: “Audi stands for sustainability. We are aiming to make the entire value chain of our models sustainable and have set ourselves demanding goals in this respect. Through careful resource cycle management, we aspire to conserve resources by recycling materials and raw materials.”

It’s about conserving resources by applying the principle of resource cycle management.

Dr. Bernd Martens responsible for procurement on the Audi Board of Management

On-site savings

With a plant like this, Volkswagen can now melt aluminum offcuts on site, creating new raw material.

The Volkswagen plant in Kassel manufactures engines, gearboxes and body parts for the entire Volkswagen Group. As most of the production processes at the components plant involve the machining of metals – for example drilling, milling or grinding – large quantities of aluminum cuttings are also produced.

In the past, these cuttings were shipped to external contractors for melting and then returned to Volkswagen as a solid material. Before it could be used for the production of new parts, the aluminum had to be melted again at the Volkswagen plant.

Now Volkswagen has simplified this process. All aluminum cuttings produced from alloy Al 226 with a residual moisture level below two percent can now be melted directly on site, producing new raw material.

The specific environmental benefit is that the Kassel plant can cut the amount of aluminum alloy it purchases each year by 1,050 tonnes. As aluminum production is highly energy-intensive, this also means a considerable drop in the associated CO2 emissions. Thanks to the new approach, Volkswagen itself saves some 3,250 MWh of energy per year, representing a reduction of 1,430 tonnes in CO2 emissions.

On the logistics side, this process also reduces the distance traveled by trucks by 800,000 kilometers per year. In addition, nitrogen oxide output is cut by 0.5 tonnes per year and Volkswagen also reduces the use of many consumables such as melting salts (-1,300 tonnes p.a.) and calcium hydroxide (-16 tonnes p.a.), as well as the production of waste such as salt slag 
(-2,670 tonnes p.a.) and filter dust (-130 tonnes p.a.).

1,430 tonnes less CO₂ per year.

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