Audi’s plans for carbon-neutral mobility

Audi is planning to begin the process of phasing out its production of combustion engine vehicles in four years’ time, after which the company will only release models onto the market that are powered purely by electricity.
Audi’s plans for carbon-neutral mobility
Courtesy of Audi

Audi intends to completely phase out the production of internal combustion engines by 2033. In order to become a leading provider of net-zero  carbon mobility, the company is also optimising every link in its value chain and, moreover, committing itself to the expansion of renewable energy. On the spotlight ‘Sustainability’ at Audi Media Days prior to the IAA, the company presented, among other things, its vision of a climate-neutral factory and showed how sustainability is implemented in the supply chain.

The company wants to be a net-zero carbon emissions company by no later than 2050. By 2025, the company plans to offer more than 20 fully electric, battery-driven cars. At the same time, Audi wants to reduce the ecological footprint of its fleet – specifically, by 30 percent as compared with 2015. One central goal is to make production carbon neutral at all sites by 2025. This has already been achieved as an interim target at Audi Hungaria and Audi Brussels. The premium brand is keeping all its processes in sight: the sourcing of raw materials and production itself, but also the utilisation phase and recycling or reuse at the end of a car’s life cycle.

Through the transition to e-mobility, the company is transferring a portion of its total carbon emissions to the supply chain. This is especially true of electric vehicles, where lithium-ion batteries require particularly energy-intensive production. That is where almost a quarter of all Audi’s carbon emissions will be produced per car at Audi, but the company’s intelligent use of resources will also save materials and reduce energy consumption. In turn, this will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in upstream production processes and lower levels of the supply chain.

Audi is taking steps, together with its suppliers, to address this early phase of manufacturing above all. By 2018, the company had already initiated the “CO2 Program in the Supply Chain” to identify steps to further reduce CO2 together with its suppliers. Opportunities can be found primarily in closed material cycles, a gradual increase in the use of secondary materials, application of materials from recycling processes known as ‘recyclates’ in plastic components, and using green electricity. These measures will also be in full operation by 2025 and, according to calculations by Audi and its suppliers, have the potential to save an average of 1.2 tons of CO2 per car. In 2020 alone, Audi was able to save a total of over 335,000 tons of CO2 in its supply chain. That amounts to a reduction of 35,000 tons of CO2 released in comparison with 2019.

The company is also campaigning for adherence to human rights and environmental protection in its supply chain. This includes membership of the Global Battery Alliance. This worldwide platform was started in 2017 on the initiative of the World Economic Forum. It brings public and private actors together to sustainably organize the battery value chain from a social, environmental technology, and economic perspective.

With regard to secondary materials, Audi returns the aluminium scraps from the press plant to the supplier for processing and then receives it back in the form of newly processed aluminium coils. This means that less primary aluminium is necessary and less carbon is emitted. Introducing the ‘Aluminum Closed Loop’ in Audi’s press plant was able to prevent a total of about 165,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. Now, Neckarsulm, Ingolstadt, and, starting in 2021, Győr are also implementing the Aluminum Closed Loop. The company is also using recyclates – processed materials derived from a recycling process – in more and more components. Some 27 components in the Audi Q4 e-tron are made with recyclates. On the exterior, that includes parts like the assembly carrier – a part that some cooling components, headlights, or the bumper casing are attached to and that has to meet particularly high mechanical demands. What’s more, a large proportion of the headlight mounts, wheel arch liners, fender covers, floor trim, and wheel spoilers is made from secondary raw materials.

In the vehicle’s interior, recycled materials are used in the insulation and damping materials. Moreover, many of the visible surfaces contain recycled materials. These include the floor covering and parts of the luggage compartment trim. In the S line interior, Dinamica microfiber material, in combination with artificial leather, functions as upholstery for the sport seats. Polyester fibres make up 45 percent of the Dinamica material. They are obtained from recycled PET bottles, old textiles, or residual fibres.

The carpeting and floor mats in the Audi e-tron GT are made of Econyl – a material that consists of 100 percent recycled nylon fibres. They come from production waste, fabric and carpet scraps, or old fishing nets. There are up to 45 1.5-litre PET bottles in the seats of an Audi A3. Seat covers made from secondary raw materials were used for the first time in the fourth generation of the Audi A3.

Alongside carbon-reduction initiatives and a gradual increase in secondary materials, Audi only works with companies that pass the sustainability requirements audit for partner companies outlined by the Volkswagen Group in its in its “Code of Conduct for Business Partners.” A sustainability rating (‘S rating’) for suppliers has been a mandatory criterion for awarding Audi contracts since 2019. The company uses this procedure to verify whether companies comply with the requirements laid out in the “Code of Conduct for Business Partners.”

Moreover, there are post office boxes and ombudsmen to inform Audi about suspected breaches. Artificial intelligence has supplemented supply chain monitoring at Audi since October 2020, complementing these traditional complaint channels with a proactive tool. In a pilot project organised by Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen in about 150 countries, intelligent algorithms from the Austrian start-up Prewave analyse reports on suppliers from public media available online and social networks. This analysis encompasses suspected sustainability risks such as environmental pollution, human rights violations, and corruption. When they are found, the artificial intelligence sounds the alarm and Audi can respond to it. The main advantage of the AI that Audi uses is the speed at which it recognises relevant information online and transmits it in packaged form.

A central goal of Audi’s cross-site ‘Mission:Zero’ environmental programme is to make production carbon-neutral at all sites by 2025. Audi Hungaria reached the carbon-neutral goal in the past year; Audi Brussels did it in 2018. Moreover, the environmental programme also addresses water use, resource efficiency, and biodiversity and has initiated pilot projects in all locations.

In Brussels, the Audi factory has switched to green electricity and installed a large, 107,000 square metre (1,151,738 square feet) photovoltaic system. The heat supply for the location comes from renewable energy via coverage through biogas certificates. Emissions that are currently technically unavoidable are compensated through certified carbon credit projects. These three pillars – supported by other measures – are blueprints for decarbonisation at other locations as well, depending, of course, on the individual regional possibilities and constraints.

Audi is running a current project at its Neckarsulm site where 3D-printed assembly aids are produced in a recycling loop. To that end, accumulated plastic waste is sorted out of production, shredded, and then processed into filament. With the help of 3-D printers, these plastic threads are turned into tools for production, precisely customised to employees’ needs.

To use water consciously and sparingly, Audi is looking to efficient processes, closed water loops, and amplified use of rainwater. Audi México has been wastewater-free since 2018. At the Neckarsulm site, a closed water cycle is being set up between the factory and the neighbouring municipal wastewater treatment plant operated by AZV Unteres Sulmtal. A service water supply centre has been in use at the Ingolstadt site since 2019. Together with the previous treatment system, roughly half of the wastewater generated can be fed into a circuit where it is treated and processed for reuse.

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