Conservation of resources

Resources 101

The targets of Volkswagen Group state that all newly developed vehicles should improve on the environmental performance of predecessor models in every respect over the vehicle’s entire life cycle.

In production, by 2025 we aim to reduce the five key environmental indicators – energy and water consumption, waste for disposal, and CO2 and VOC emissions – by 45% per manufactured vehicle compared with the 2010 baseline.  Based on the mean value of these five indicators, by 2016 the Group had already succeeded in reducing the environmental impact per unit of production of our passenger cars and light commercial vehicles by 25.3%.

In the exhibition, the “resource scale” visualizes the five elements – non-ferrous and light metals, steel, water, and CO2 – in an unconventional way.

Resource scale
The production of a car requires large amounts of resources.
It takes large amounts of resources to build a car. Nonferrous metals, light metals and steel go into the production of the vehicle, as well as many liters of water. CO2 is given off, especially in the car’s operation. The visitor may compare the recources and materials used by three different vehicle types: electric vehicles, compact cars, and SUVs. They vary in size, furnishing and drive technology. Some results might come as a little surprise.

Light metals help reduce weight

Aluminum is the most important lightweight construction material in automobile manufacturing. It is both light and strong. The extraction and processing of this metal, however, is complex and energy-intensive. From the mining of the raw material, through its individual processing steps, to its use, ten kilograms of CO2 are released per kilogram of aluminum. By comparison: for steel, this figure is just two kilograms of CO2. But if a component is made at least 40 percent lighter by using aluminum, a vehicle saves fuel, and thus reduces its CO2 emissions over its working life. For further information on aluminum, see our exhibit “15,000 steps – one goal.”

In December 2016, Volkswagen signed a pilot agreement for returning scrap aluminium directly to suppliers for subsequent reuse in vehicles. The implementation of the Aluminium Closed Loop Project in 2017 will be the very first time a closed loop for aluminium has been organized with non-Group suppliers.

Versatile steel

Steel is the basic material in vehicle construction. Over 60 percent of a passenger car consists of this versatile material. Steel is mechanically and thermally extremely resilient and can be reused as many times as needed without a loss in quality. In addition, the production of one kilogram of steel results in just two kilograms of CO₂ emissions – compared to ten kilograms of CO₂ for aluminum. Steel has been used in cars ever since they have been manufactured. Steel producers have continuously improved the material, contributing to lightweight steel construction through their innnovations.

Nonferrous metals becoming more important

Nonferrous metals are valuable natural resources that exist in the world in sufficient quantities. In the automobile industry, copper is used above all. The material is extremely conductive and therefore highly efficient. It is also recyclable without a loss in quality. Electric cars contain large amounts of this mineral resource.

NGOs criticize the mining of copper, arguing that its extraction comes at a high human and environmental cost. Experts are therefore demanding that governments and corporations observe social and ecological standards and integrate these in their processes.

Water is valuable

A vehicle’s water consumption concerns its entire life cycle. What is decisive isn’t only how much water is used, but also where. For this reason, the assessments take into account whether the respective region is subject to water scarcity. A passenger car uses a total of 400,000 liters on average. Over 95 percent of the overall consumption arises in the early production and use phase, and in the provision of fuel. Admixtures of biofuels like ethanol require the farming of sugarcane or wheat.

Volkswagen Group adapts its water use to the varying regional availability of water resources worldwide. At the same time, the Group supports a broad range of projects in which the protection or development of water resources is a key or even the primary objective.

Reducing CO2 emissions

Climate-damaging carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes substantially to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Burning processes account for 95 percent of its occurence. During a car’s life cycle, it produces around 75 percent of its overall CO2 emissions through driving; the remainder results from its production and further processing. Electric cars achieve the best CO2 values.

Although they generate greater CO2 emissions during production, these are quickly compensated for in the use phase. The life cycle assessment improves considerably when the e-car is powered by green electricity. In this case, its lifetime CO2 emissions can be cut nearly in half.

Environmental management at Volkswagen Group
sustainability report 2016

Supply chain
15,000 steps – one goal
Volkswagen supply chains are long, complex, and entangled. How is the Group achieving environmental protection, human rights, and sustainability?