STOCKHOLM — This week, Volvo unveiled its new flagship electric vehicle, the EX90 three-row SUV. It’s not just a preview of a product we’ll see hitting the market in 2024, but a glimpse of the approach Volvo is taking to becoming more sustainable as it aims to go fully electric by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040. After the EX90 unveiling, we had the opportunity to speak with Volvo’s Head of Advanced Technology and Sustainability, Henrik Green, in a panel discussion on the brand’s climate strategy.
Part of the strategy is accountability and transparency. In an industry where sensitive materials like cobalt and lithium can be environmentally, socially and geopolitically problematic, traceability is paramount. Volvo will use blockchain technology – the same type of secure ledger technology that makes cryptocurrency possible – to trace cobalt, lithium and nickel from their very origins in the earth to the EX90s rolling out of the factory. Green said he expects traceability to extend to more materials, but it’s all three that Volvo can commit to today. Green also predicts a time when “you, as a consumer, should be able to see, ‘Here in my app, this is the car I bought, this is where my nickel came from that’s in my car.'”
While the first step is to improve transparency, “the next step is – it’s much more long-term – how can we influence the industry to source from the most sustainable sources possible?” And that brings us to recycling. The goal is a circular economy, where raw materials are used to a minimum, replaced by materials from old cars, batteries, electronic devices, etc. But it depends on the life cycle of the first generations of electric cars before they can be recycled. And obviously, the better the longevity of products like batteries, the longer it will take. “Unfortunately, there’s this built-in time lag of putting batteries in that live until they need replacing, and then we’ll get the hardware back.”
The partners are beginning to seek out these recyclable materials from sources such as non-automotive electronics, “but the massive volume of car batteries won’t be accessible until these cars have been on the road for 10, 15 years or so.” more”. But recyclability is one of the key factors Volvo seeks when it partners with companies like Northvolt, with whom Volvo is building a factory and R&D center in Gothenburg, Sweden.
However, recycling is not just about batteries. The EX90 is the most recycled Volvo car to date. 15% of plastics are recycled, as well as 15% of steel and 25% of aluminum. Volvo aims to expand this to 25% plastics, 25% steel and 40% aluminum in its cars by 2025, and much more than that by the 2040 target date for climate neutrality. And Volvo is working to make its cars not just more recycled, but more recycledpower, so that it can use more of its own materials in this circular production process. “The hard part is taking it apart and sorting it into single-material bins” for recycling, Green said. “I foresee that in the long term, here, we will design cars where it is easier to take them apart and sort them into pure material boxes. In this way, we can really launch the circular economy and circular business. »
And when something is hard to recycle, like plastic, Volvo is looking to increase its use of bio-based materials, which are part of the EX90. Designers are the driving force, Green said, behind moving away from materials like leather and virgin plastics to include recycled, bio-based and natural materials. For example, the EX90’s Nordico upholstery is made from recycled materials like plastic bottles, and wool seats are also an option. The wood in the vehicle comes from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
In terms of manufacturing, Volvo is also working fast to achieve climate neutrality. While Volvo can easily control its own operations, Green says the next step is the supply chain. “That’s where we work the hardest,” getting tier one, tier two, etc. all run on climate-neutral electricity. Volvo wants to reduce its carbon footprint from its supply chain, as well as its internal operations, by 25% by the middle of the decade. He admits this is a big challenge with going electric, as battery production is carbon-intensive. “So you build that burden first, then you have to reduce [it].”
Fortunately, suppliers are complying with the program and Volvo is seeing less pushback and more cooperation from them to align with its climate goals. But for those who are dragging their feet, Green said, “we have a very strong message, and in part it is said here [to the media] and we say that to the world, so it also becomes evident in discussions with suppliers. Volvo has also implemented internal carbon pricing, in which a ton of carbon dioxide costs SEK 1,000 (about $96), which it can factor into trade discussions. “When you do your business comparison, you can say that ton of CO2 is SEK 1,000, here’s the cost of poor quality, here’s the cost of the part”, to help find a balanced final cost. Volvo implemented this carbon price about a year ago, but Green would like to see it increase.
Another sustainability strategy pursued by Volvo is becoming increasingly familiar: bi-directional charging. This allows the vehicle not only to charge its battery for driving tasks, but also for home backup power, remote power and grid stabilization. Volvo has announced that its EX90 will be its first product capable of bi-directional charging. The whole strategy is still “in the works”, but Volvo would offer a wallbox for home energy storage, and customers could get the full price of home energy products and installation from a dealer. or a Volvo website, which would then be provided by Volvo’s partners.
Ultimately, Green said, “you can really optimize a city or a society if you” collaborate with energy providers. While renewable energy sources like solar and wind are intermittent, thousands of connected batteries can balance the grid when these sources are not supplying. “It’s a bit futuristic…but my personal view is that cars can become that resource that helps the world power itself with less stable sources of electricity that are sustainable. We’ve built two-way charging into the EX90 for this purpose. »