The Volkswagen ID.3 marks the beginning of a new era – also in the field of sustainability. The electric car is the first Volkswagen to be manufactured in a carbon neutral balance sheet manner.
The Volkswagen Group is aware of its responsibility to the environment and society. Some time ago, the Group committed itself to the Paris Climate Agreement. In concrete terms, this means: balance sheet CO₂ neutrality by 2050.
To reduce CO₂ emissions, the Group’s brands are focusing on electrifying their vehicle fleets. And the ID.3 is Volkswagen’s first flagship model to follow this strategy with total determination.
Principles of sustainability
In order to achieve the best possible carbon neutral balance sheet, three principles are pursued. First: Reduce CO2 effectively and sustainably. Second: Convert the energy supply to renewable energies. Third: Compensate for unavoidable emissions. Summarized in one sentence: Decarbonization (see box) can succeed if CO2 emissions are consistently avoided or reduced, and in terms of unavoidable emissions, offset with climate protection projects.
Where do environmental impacts arise in the production of ID.3?
To ensure that sustainability really makes sense, Volkswagen tries to ensure carbon neutrality over the entire life cycle of a vehicle. Experts refer to this as the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA divides the production and life span of a car into four sections. First, the supply chain; second, production; third, the use phase; and fourth, recycling, which takes place at the end of a vehicle’s lifespan. Sustainable mobility is complex, and holistic thinking is imperative. Through the LCA, experts at Volkswagen know where so-called “hot spots” lie in production. “Hot spots” are the areas and production steps that generate high levels of CO₂.
With the ID.3, the manufacture of the battery system causes over 40 percent of CO₂ emissions. It is therefore worth taking a second look at this component and comparing it with other models.
Control over the supply chain of thousands of suppliers
The challenge: The ID.3 battery is a component that Volkswagen does not manufacture itself. In this case, the Volkswagen experts therefore examine the so-called “supply chain”, i.e. the upstream production of materials and components, through to the extraction of the raw materials is required.
The supply chain is also important for sustainable electromobility because the production of high-performance batteries is energy intensive. This is why the production of an electric car produces significantly more CO₂ than a vehicle with a classic petrol or diesel engine – on average 1.5 times more. Compared to conventional drives, electric cars therefore have a disadvantage in the CO₂ balance right from the start. Consistent climate protection must therefore start early. Optimization of the battery becomes apparent quickly: If green electricity is used to manufacture the batteries, the environmental impact drops significantly.
The battery cells for ID.3 are supplied by the Korean company LG Chem, which manufactures the cells in Europe and invested in a production facility in Poland. A long time ago, Volkswagen agreed with LG Chem that only certified green electricity would be used to manufacture the battery cells. CO2 emissions from this sector are thus reduced to almost zero.
Other focal points for CO₂ reductions in the supply chain relate to steel production and the manufacture of electric motors. In the case of steel, complex processes can even lead to savings of up to 70 percent within a few years. In the case of the electric motor, Volkswagen uses recycled aluminum for the housing. The savings potential of these and other measures is 50 percent no less.
CO₂ savings in production in Zwickau
Of course, CO2 is also produced in the production of components, body construction, the paint shop and assembly. The ID.3 is manufactured at Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant in Saxony. The plant’s maximum capacity utilization is increasing from the current 1,350 to 1,500 vehicles per day. In the final expansion stage from 2021, 330,000 purely electric cars will be produced per year.
In order to produce this quantity with as little impact on the environment as possible, the plant has been optimized over many years. By mid-2019, the measures implemented had already reduced CO2 emissions by a total of 66 percent compared with 2010. There have been and still are many projects and dozens of good examples of this. The plant in Zwickau, for example, is partly supplied by Volkswagen Kraftwerks GmbH with green electricity, a purely natural form of electricity. This comes from hydropower plants, wind farms and solar parks and is TÜV-certified. Zwickau produces the other part in its own block-type thermal power station. It is powered by natural gas, which is significantly more climate-friendly than generating electricity from coal. The company’s own power plant has another major advantage: it also covers 70 percent of the plant’s heat requirements “by the way”.
Another good example of CO₂ savings are the halls that have been extended or newly built in the course of the conversion. They were built in accordance with the latest energy saving directive and minimize the consumption of electricity, water and heat according to their use. The use of natural gas – one of the major consumers in production – has also been optimized: During thermal post-combustion in the paint shop, the exhaust gas temperature is now optimized in such a way that it is still high enough for the quality on the one hand, but on the other hand not too much pollutants are blown into the air. Overall, less gas is used.
What cannot be avoided in production in Zwickau is compensated by climate protection projects. Volkswagen is initially concentrating on active forest protection and reforestation in the tropics. The projects are certified to the highest international standards: The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB) and Gold Standard. With the first project, the “Katingan Mataya Forest Protection Project” on the Indonesian island of Borneo, the company is offsetting the currently unavoidable CO₂ emissions generated by ID.3 before it is delivered to customers.
In the Katingan Mentaya project, Volkswagen is working with Permian Global, a project developer in the field of protecting and restoring tropical forests. The project is located in central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo and secures 149,800 hectares of forest on carbon-rich peat soils.
Then sustainability makes perfect sense: CO₂-neutral on the road
The ID.3 not only offers a completely new vehicle concept, but also gives drivers and passengers the opportunity for balance-sheet CO₂-neutral mobility. Prerequisite: The battery is consistently charged with renewable electricity. And that at home, as well as on the road.
At home, the Volkswagen subsidiary Elli supports the environmentally conscious owners of an ID.3. Elli supplies Volkswagen Naturstrom®. This comes from 100 percent renewable energy. Ordering is simple and inexpensive – and guarantees sustainability. TÜV Nord checks the origin of Volkswagen Naturstrom® annually. This certifies the neutrality of CO₂ and the electricity purchased from green power plants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. With this green offer, Volkswagen is making it as attractive as possible to switch to an electric car.
On the road, drivers can use the charging infrastructure of the Ionity joint venture in which Volkswagen has a stake. By 2020, Ionity will have built 400 ultra-fast charging stations along Europe’s main traffic arteries, which will also offer 100 percent renewable electricity – if available in the respective country.
Charging the batteries with sustainably produced electricity is of course only one aspect of the equation. Sustainability also means durability. Longevity is ensured, because Volkswagen will give an eight-year or 160,000 kilometer guarantee on ID.3 batteries.
At the end of a vehicle’s life there are valuable resources
At the end of the vehicle’s lifecycle there is recycling. Volkswagen is also committed to this complex field. In 2009, Volkswagen launched the LithoRec research project to look into the recycling of lithium-ion batteries. A pilot recycling plant for lithium-ion batteries is currently being built at Volkswagen’s Salzgitter plant.
The aim is to optimize the recycling process and further reduce the carbon footprint of battery production through the use of recovered raw materials. The recycling is designed to close the loop (closed-loop). Volkswagen is also working on secondary use concepts for high-voltage batteries in stationary applications. This will also ultimately improve the vehicle’s CO2 balance.
In order to achieve climate-neutral automotive mobility in the long term, all Volkswagen signs point to electromobility. The ID.3 – here too it is a pioneer of new sustainable mobility.