23 Feb 2022
Climate change, combined with scarcity of resources, and pollution, is a stark reality facing us all in the present day. Audi is at the forefront of several sustainable initiatives right from sourcing of materials to production. Here’s how Audi is promoting the concept of green wheels for a better tomorrow.
Sustainability is now a prerequisite at Audi. Its Sustainability Roadmap focuses on Climate, Health, and Resources. For a sustainable future, Audi preserves natural resources, avoids environmental pollution and assumes social responsibility.
Old fishing nets are used in the production of the Audi e-tron GT. The carpet and floor mats are made of Econyl, a material that consists of 100% recycled nylon fibres. They come from production waste, fabric and carpet scraps, or plastic waste from the oceans. One of the Audi e-tron GT’s 20-inch wheels is made of aluminium manufactured in a low-carbon production process.
Chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste is both technically feasible and environmentally and financially promising. The plastic waste from automotive manufacturing can be processed into pyrolysis oil and could replace petroleum as a raw material for the production of high-quality plastic components in Audi models. The material cycles closed in this way save valuable resources, energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Chemical recycling represents a viable alternative to energy recovery and complements mechanical processing.
Audi is one of the first automakers to test this recycling method in a pilot project with automotive plastic waste. Carbon dioxide emissions from chemical recycling are significantly lower than from the current energy recovery process – which benefits the climate. Complementing mechanical recycling, pyrolysis also converts mixed waste plastics and composites into a liquid chemical feedstock while separating out unwanted constituents. This pyrolysis oil can be processed into new plastic using conventional industrial processes.
Plastic waste from assembling the Audi A6 and A7 at the Neckarsulm site has recently (since 2021) been sorted, shredded, and then processed into 3D printing filament. This plastic thread is then used to produce precision-fit assembly aids with the help of 3D printers. In another recycling project, plastic sheets from Audi assembly have been recycled into trash bags since the beginning of 2021 and then used at the site.
Reuse is another part of the circular economy by remanufacturing used parts to produce parts of original quality. Audi is taking steps to make the life cycle of batteries as sustainable as possible and has been an active member of the Global Battery Alliance. The alliance focuses on extracting raw materials as well as on the creation of solutions for reusing lithium-ion batteries.
Audi has implemented initiatives to achieve carbon neutrality by identifying CO2 reduction potential within the supply chain, especially for energy-intensive materials such as aluminium, steel and battery components. Audi sets great store by extensively monitoring its upstream value chain. Its procurement department employs a variety of measures, such as the Sustainability Rating and the Audi CO₂ supply chain programme, to name but two.
Alongside decarbonization, water use, and biodiversity, resource efficiency is one of the fields of activity. At the Neckarsulm site, numerous measures and projects such as exclusively sourcing green power, a pilot system for a closed water cycle in the factory, and the aluminium closed loop in the press plant are already helping to protect the environment and conserve resources.
Audi produces 3D-printed assembly aids for vehicle production. These assembly aids are not only made of recycled material, they also promote ergonomic and safe work processes and are tailored precisely to the requirements of the employees. As such, the project is helping the company achieve the goals of its cross-site environmental programme ‘Mission:Zero’.
In this pilot project, packaging used to protect sensitive components – such as loudspeakers and sensors – is now being collected and sorted by type. Special equipment is then used to shred this plastic blister packaging into granulate and dry it. A filament maker then heats the granulate up to 450 °C and extrudes it in the form of plastic filament. And this is the raw material for the 3D printers that the team of experts can use to produce precision-fit assembly aids for vehicle production.
In the case of the Audi e-tron GT, 3D printing was already, and for the first time, an integral part of the process – even during pre-series production – so that all the tools for assembly and pre-assembly were available at the start of series production. More than 160 different printed aids are now in use at the location today. Tools produced via 3D printing include, for example, pushers, which are a kind of elongated finger that makes it easier for production workers to attach clips to the car body, or assembly aids that can be used to precisely attach the four rings to the rear of the vehicle.
Audi was able to virtually design part of the special containers used to transport sensitive components for the Audi e-tron GT for the first time. This VR application, which was piloted at the Neckarsulm site, is now in use throughout the group and helps to conserve resources previously used for container prototypes. In addition, the all-electric Gran Turismo is the first vehicle from the brand with the four rings to be manufactured entirely without prototypes. This was made possible by three-dimensional building scans and the use of virtual reality, among other things.
Audi is also using recyclates in more components. Many surfaces, including floor coverings and parts of the luggage compartment lining, are made with recycled materials. The Puls fabric, which is combined with artificial leather, is composed of recyclates. For seat trim in this material, a complex process repurposes PET bottles into a yarn. And when woven into a fabric, it matches the visual and tactile quality standards of traditional textile upholstery.
There are up to 45 1.5-liter PET bottles in the seats of an Audi A3. Another 62 PET bottles are recycled for the carpet. The A3 is available with three different fabric covers for the car seats that contain up to 89 percent recycled material. Fuel tanks, airbag covers and radiator grilles need to meet stringent safety, heat resistance, and quality requirements. This is why plastic automotive components that are subject to stress can only be manufactured from materials of virgin material quality.
Instead of being scrapped, battery cells are repurposed to continue storing electricity even after the vehicle is retired. Only when the batteries can no longer perform this task are they recycled using cutting-edge concepts that permit recovery of the individual raw materials for reuse in new batteries.
We are all spokes in the wheel of change, and slowly but surely, we are making progress in reaching our destination, which is a green future for everyone. And Audi is leading the way with its sustainable practices, for a greener tomorrow.