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  • Aasavari Joshi

Building the future of automobiles, one zero-carbon car at a time

The predicted carbon and resource budgets for the automotive sector are being drastically surpassed. Car-based mobility is expected to increase by over 70% globally by 2030. This is taking place at a time when estimates indicate that in order to remain within a 1.5°C climate warming scenario, mobility emissions must decrease by around 50% by 2030.

The industry 4.0 is quickly taking hold across the board, and digitization, new technologies, and the rise of e-mobility are accelerating decarbonization. Decarbonization affects the entire industry ecosystem, including OEMs, suppliers, semi-finished goods, raw materials, recyclers, government agencies, and eventually end users.

The industry and its entire value chain must undergo considerable adjustments in order to attain net-zero carbon emissions and limit global warming to an increase in 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement. Building ecosystems for resource sharing and reuse, partnering with businesses, consumers, and governments, and collaborating to increase efficiency with fewer primary resources and more renewable energy sources are critical aspects to become more sustainable. The idea of a zero-carbon circular car — a vehicle that maximises its potential in terms of carbon efficiency and circularity — is an ambitious vision for the automotive value chain that might inspire all players in this ecosystem. Such a car would require net-zero carbon emissions both during production and for the duration of its lifetime, as well as net-zero material waste.

But how do we achieve this goal?

In the past few years, the automotive industry has made significant progress toward decarbonization, with a particular emphasis on electrifying vehicles. When a vehicle's life cycle is considered as a whole, vehicle manufacturing has traditionally generated the majority of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When compared to other GHG emitters such as material production or end-of-life material recovery, it is also the area where automakers have the greatest potential to create a positive impact. The greater efficiency of battery integration, the significance of lightweight design, the fulfilment of performance standards, and the development of advanced designs are among the problems being addressed by automakers today.

Within the concept of a circular economy, crude materials and products are designed, built, repaired, and reused so that, as far as conceivable, there's no more loss or wastage within the customary sense and raw materials stay within a closed circle of usage. Ideally, a car should not be wasted at the end of its lifetime but constitute a “material bank” (i.e., all parts of the car can be re-used for manufacturing new vehicles). While measures to close the loop during the production stage are continuous, we are still a long way away from cars serving as a source of valuable materials at the end of their lifecycles.

Novelis, a leading manufacturer of flat rolled aluminium, has implemented a closed loop recycling system with the support of its customers. Automobile manufacturers return aluminium scrap generated during the construction process. Novelis then recycles this into similar high-value products without any loss of quantity of aluminium. Not only does this enable a circular use of raw materials but also a closed loop where the need for primary aluminium is reduced drastically. This, in turn, reduces carbon emissions as the recycling of metal requires merely 5% of the energy that is required to produce primary aluminium.

To reach a position of carbon neutrality, it is important to source renewable energy. The entire automotive industry will depend on the availability and stability of renewable sources of energy. To reduce the overall stress on energy usage, it is important to use less energy-intensive processes. However, there are other pathways to reduce energy consumption. New and improved business models must have a circular approach at their centre. In the current vehicle manufacturing system, closing the recycling loop during production is a step that must be built upon. It will ensure that the future design structure of cars can promote the retrieval of materials and of production waste at the end of the vehicle's lifecycle.


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