STOCKHOLM — This week, Volvo has unveiled its new flagship electric vehicle, the EX90 three-row SUV. It’s not just a look at a product we’ll see hitting the market in 2024, but a glimpse of the approach. Volvo is becoming more sustainable as it aims to go all-electric by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2040. Following the launch of the EX90, we had a chance to speak with Henrik Green, employee Volvo’s innovative technology and sustainability, as part of a roundtable discussion about the brand’s future climate strategy.
Part of the strategy is accountability and transparency. In an industry where sensitive materials such as cobalt and lithium can cause environmental, social and geopolitical problems, traceability is paramount. Volvo will use blockchain technology — the same kind of secure ledger technology that powers cryptocurrencies — to trace cobalt, lithium, and nickel from their very origins on earth all the way to the EX90s rolling off the factory floor. Green said he hopes that traceability will extend to more materials, but those three things are what Volvo can commit to to this day. Green also predicts the point at which “you as a consumer will be able to see, ‘Here, in my app, this is the car I bought, this is where my coin came from this. It’s in my car.’”
While step one is to improve transparency, “the next step is — this is a much longer term step — how can we influence the industry to source from the most sustainable sources possible?” And that leads us to recycling. A circular economy is the goal, in which raw materials are used to a minimum, replaced by materials derived from used cars, the battery, electronics and the like. But that depends on the first generations of Electric Car complete their life cycle before they can be recycled. And obviously the better the lifespan of products like batteries, the longer this will last. “Unfortunately, it has a built-in time delay in getting the batteries out there until they need to be replaced, and then we get the material back.”
The partners are starting to find those recyclable materials from sources like non-automotive electronics, “but large volumes of car batteries won’t be accessible until the umbrellas come in. This car has been on the road for 10, 15 years or so.” But recyclability is one of the key factors Volvo looks for when partnering with companies like Northvolt. Volvo is building a factory and R&D center in Gothenburg, Sweden.
However, recycling isn’t just about batteries. The EX90 is Volvo’s most recycled vehicle to date. 15% plastic is recycled, as well as 15% steel and 25% aluminum. Volvo aims to expand that share to 25% plastic, 25% steel and 40% aluminum in its cars by 2025 and significantly more than its climate-neutral goal by 2040. And Volvo is strives to make our cars not only more recycled, but more recycledmaybe, so it can use more of its own materials in that cyclical production process. “The hard part of that is taking it apart and sorting it into bins” for recycling, says Green. “I predict that in the long run, here, we will build cars that are easier to disassemble and organize them in boxes of pure materials. That way, we can really get the circular economy and circular business going.”
And when something is difficult to recycle, such as plastic, Volvo is looking to increase its use of bio-based materials that are part of the EX90. Designers are the driving force behind ditching materials like leather and virgin plastic, says Green, in favor of recycled, bio-based and natural materials. For example, the Nordico upholstery EX90 Made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles and wool seats are also an option. The wood in the vehicle is sourced from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
On the manufacturing front, Volvo is also working quickly to achieve climate neutrality there. While Volvo can easily control its operations, Green said the next step is the supply chain. “That’s where we’re really working the hardest,” getting tier-one, tier-two and so on, all running on climate-neutral electricity. Volvo wants to reduce carbon emissions from its supply chain, as well as its internal operations, increased by 25% by the middle of the decade. He admits this is a big challenge for electricity usage, as battery production uses a lot of carbon. “So you first increase that burden, then you need to reduce it [it].”
Thankfully, suppliers are participating in the program, and Volvo is seeing less feedback and more cooperation from them to align with its climate goals. But for those who drag their feet, Green says, “we have a very powerful message, and partly we say it here [to the media] and we say that to the world, so that also becomes clear in our discussions with suppliers.” Volvo has also done an in-house carbon valuation, where a ton of carbon dioxide costs SEK 1,000 (about $96), which can factor into business discussions. “When you compare your business, you can say that this ton of CO2 is SEK 1,000, this is the cost of poor quality, this is the cost of the part,” to help figure out the final cost. balance. Volvo made that carbon price about a year ago, but Green wants to see it go up.
Another sustainability strategy Volvo is pursuing is becoming increasingly familiar: two-way charging. This allows the vehicle to not only charge the battery for driving duties, but also for home backup power, remote power, and grid stabilization. Volvo claims the EX90 will be the first to feature two-way charging. The entire strategy is still “in the works”, but Volvo will provide wall boxes for home energy storage and customers can get a total price for home energy products and installations. from Volvo seller or website, which will then be provided by Volvo partners.
Ultimately, Green says, “you can really optimize a city or a society if you” collaborate with energy suppliers. While renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are intermittent, thousands of connected batteries can balance the grid when those sources fail to deliver. “There is a bit of a future… but my personal view is that cars can become the resource that helps the world power less stable, sustainable sources of electricity. We’ve built two-way charging into the EX90 for that purpose.”