How Volkswagen Plans to Achieve Wastewater Free Automotive Production
Volkswagen Group aims to make its production factories wastewater-free and has announced that it is close to achieving this goal at various sites.
The auto manufacturer hopes to reduce freshwater consumption across its brand portfolio by 25 percent by 2018. Analysis conducted by the company found that nearly all of its water consumption—95 percent—is directly attributed to the production process, most of it upstream in the supply chain and 10 percent in its own factories.
Through lifecycle assessment, the company computed the proportion of water recovered and reused across 45 sites in a footprint mapping exercise. The assessment indicated that combined, the sites used 3.8 million cubic meters of recycled water, corresponding to 8 percent of freshwater uptake.
Volkswagen’s goal is to operate a closed cycle, reusing water as often as possible. Its current treatment plants employ membrane and evaporator techniques that allow the bulk of process water to be reused. More than 95 percent of the water remains in the cycle or is used for cooling, garden irrigation or for flushing toilets.
Across its various production sites, Volkswagen has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve water efficiency. At its Wolfsburg plant in Germany, plastics painting is virtually free of process water and is achieved through a combination of technologies such as dehumidifying drying.
The Braunschweig plant has a conductance-controlled water spray metering system installed in its paint shop, saving 34,380 cubic meters of water and thereby reducing overall costs by £185,000.
VW’s Pune plant in India removes 99 percent of all biodegradable materials using biological wastewater treatment technologies that allow water to be reused onsite. This ensures that nearly all of the wastewater is returned back to the cycle. Additionally, the Pune plant uses special taps that reduce freshwater consumption by 75 percent.
The LEED Platinum certified Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga is reportedly the world’s most sustainable automotive manufacturing facility. There, rainwater collection provides 700,000 toilet flushes a year and cools wielding machines. Some six million gallons of water are reportedly saved in the paint shop through the use of a dry scrubber tool.
Water stewardship on a larger level is also being promoted throughout Mexico via the company’s ‘Think Blue. Nature.’ program, which includes a major reforestation and youth education project in the national park of Puebla.
490,000 mountain spruce trees have been planted in Puebla since 2008. The trees were planted in cooperation with 40 partners from the component supply industry in order to stabilize the region’s water table. Improved rainwater seepage has led to an additional water volume of up to four million cubic meters per year.
Volkswagen’s performance may be an anomaly. Earlier this year, an independent report on the auto manufacturing industry found that water consumption had actually increased across the sector.
Ultium Cells LLC/Li-Cycle: Sustainable Battery Manufacturing
Ultium Cells LLC - a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions - has announced its latest collaboration with Li-Cycle. Joining forces the two have set ambitions to expand recycling in North America, recycling up to 100% of the scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing
What is Ultium Cells LLC?
Announcing their partnership in December 2019, General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions established Ultium Cells LLC with a mission to “ensure excellence of Battery Cell Manufacturing through implementation of best practices from each company to contribute [to the] expansion of a Zero Emission propulsion on a global scale.”
Who is Li-Cycle?
Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle leverages innovative solutions to address emerging and urgent challenges around the world.
As the use of Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in automotive, industrial energy storage, and consumer electronic applications rises, Li-Cycle believes that “the world needs improved technology and supply chain innovations to better recycle these batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials.”
Why are Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle join forces?
By joining forces to expand the recycling of scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing in North America, the new recycling process will allow Ultium Cells LLC to recycle cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum.
“95% of these materials can be used in the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries,” says GM, who explains that the new hydrometallurgical process emits 30% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than traditional processes, minimising the environmental impact. Use of this process will begin later in the year (2021).
"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain. This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining, " said Ajay Kochhar, President, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle.
"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90% of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025. Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials,” added Ken Morris, Vice President of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, GM.
Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100% of the battery packs it has received from customers, with most current GM EVs repaired with refurbished packs.
"We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended. This is a crucial step in improving the sustainability of our components and manufacturing processes,” concluded Thomas Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Ultium Cells LLC.