Volvo Trucks is paving the way for CO2-free truck making while Ford embraces wind power and the photovoltaic cell. These are just two of the innovations emerging from an industry committed to reducing both carbon output and the cost of manufacturing

At the AMS conference in Leipzig in February 2007, there was considerable interest in Marc Seghers’ presentation on efforts to nullify the carbon footprint at Volvo Trucks’ three plants in Europe. But can this really be done? Surely it is impossible to have carbon free vehicle manufacturing.

We can reduce other emissions to negligible levels, but carbon dioxide to nothing? Impossible!

In fact the project looks set to exceed even Volvo’s expectations. “What started out as an environmental project, with an estimated payback of five to ten years, has quickly become a profitable project, with a chance to make cost savings in the first year because of hefty rises in oil and gas prices,” explained Seghers, Infrastructure and Environment Manager at Volvo Europa Truck, and leader of the CO2-free project.

Volvo AB announced in September 2005 that it would make its Tuve plant in Sweden the world’s first CO2-free automotive plant. Enthusiasm for the project grew quickly and Volvo’s two other European plants – Umeå, the cab plant in Sweden, and the Ghent assembly plant in Belgium – adopted similar programmes. Ghent is probably now the most advanced with plans that call for the complete replacement of current fossil fuel use with renewable energies before the end of this year.

Biomass and windpower

The Ghent project consists of two major elements. A biomass plant powered by wood pellets will replace most of the natural gas used for heating, and Volvo will install three wind turbines to generate around 50 per cent of its electricity. The remaining 50 per cent of electricity will be brought from a certified green hydroelectric power source.

The whole project is being run in partnership with the plant’s existing power provider, Electrabel.

Electrabel worked with Volvo to develop the best solution. Together they had considered a combined heat and power plant (CHP) that could run on biomass. CHP (or cogeneration) is a system that involves the recovery of waste heat from power generation to form useful energy like useable steam. This can then be used to make electricity. CHP was considered by the partnership as an alternative for the biomass plant that Volvo was already building but it wasn’t found to be the best solution. CHP works best where there is a year-round demand for heat, such as in the paint shop, one of the most energy intensive areas of an automotive plant. Volvo doesn’t paint trucks in Ghent so it didn’t need heat all year round and would have been faced with making the plant idle during the summer months. This was not economically viable.

To optimise the capacity of the biomass plant it is only expected to generate around 70 per cent of the energy that Volvo previously obtained from gas. In the summer the existing gasboiler will be transformed to run on bio-oil. Work on building the biomass plant started in February 2007. The wind turbines are due to be installed in September 2007.

“Why three wind turbines? We had no room for more. We would have had put more on if we could have but there was simply no room,” said Seghers. Three turbines will supply around 50 per cent of Volvo’s electricity needs, while the remainder will be sourced from green certified electricity from a hydroelectric facility close to Lyon, France. Indeed, Volvo Europa Truck started buying green energy from this source from the beginning of this year.

Energy reduction remains critical

Volvo AB is also working to reduce its total energy need and is aiming to reduce energy consumption at all its plants by half. For Ghent this is important. “Longer term we want to reduce energy consumption so that we don’t even have to buy that 50 per cent electricity that we cannot generate ourselves,” said Seghers. “We currently have a computerised energy management system that monitors energy consumption, but it is 15 years old so we are upgrading that.”

People are also important. “Just as people are encouraged to be responsible for cost and quality, they will now start to be asked to be responsible for their energy consumption,” said Seghers. The availability of more accurate information from the energy management system will help involve all the people in manufacturing to take responsibility.

Other measures taken to reduce energy include the fitting of roof lights to allow more natural light, and repainting to reduce some of the need for artificial light.

Volvo Ghent is also considering adding to its existing portfolio of energy generation means. Under consideration at the moment are solar power from photovoltaic (PV) cells and solar thermal tubes. Seghers said the companies are currently evaluating putting PV cells on the roof of the biomass plant.

Together Electrabel and Volvo will invest a total of €10m ($13.4m) in the biomass plant and the wind turbines. Electrabel will retain ownership of the wind turbines and the biomass plant, and sell energy to Volvo at an agreed price.

Different energy models for each plant

Not all of the three Volvo plants is following the same master plan. “Each of the three plants has different local configurations depending on specific energy demand needs,” said Seghers.

The Tuve plant will house five wind turbines, which are being built in partnership with Göteborg Energi. Two of the turbines are on Volvo’s land while three are not.

These turbines will meet 100 per cent of the plant’s energy needs. Heat will be delivered by a new biofuel boiler with a capacity of about 10MW. Again, that will meet all of the plants needs. It is economical to build a plant that meets the entire plant’s requirements because surplus energy will be fed to the district heating network.

The five wind power plants alone will increase the amount of wind-power generated electricity in Sweden by four per cent. The wind power plants and the new biofuel plant are scheduled for completion during 2007.

To emphasise the importance of the company’s efforts Volvo AB’s CEO, Leif Johansson, noted at the launch of the project that Sweden is expecting to be on target to reduce its CO2 emissions by one per cent by 2010 compared to 1990 levels.

“If all our plants in Sweden were made CO2-free, the reduction would correspond to a full one per cent of Sweden’s total emissions of carbon dioxide,” said Johansson.

Bio-synthetic gas at Umeå

The Umeå cab plant is the last of Volvo’s three European truck plants to target carbon neutral manufacturing. The plant has signed an agreement with the town’s university and Umeå Energi for a preliminary study on development of a process for replacing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) with locally produced eco-friendly bio-synthetic gas.

The aim of the agreement is for a preliminary study to develop a new gasification process together with Umeå University. A gasification plant is planned for the Volvo Trucks cab plant for the production of environmentally optimised bio-synthetic gas. This technology, whereby the forestry industry’s residual by-products are ground down and gasified in a flow reactor, was developed by Umeå University.

The next stage in the process of making the factory carbon dioxide-free is to eliminate all use of LPG in cab production. Today LPG – a blend of fossil gas substances – is used in the paint shop’s drying process.

If the project is so successful will it be spread to other companies in the Volvo group, namely Renault and Mack? “We have environmental-related people from the whole group on our environmental council. We share information and this is a good opportunity,” said Seghers Furthermore, there has been considerable interest from other automotive companies outside of the group, particularly companies located in Belgium, including Ford and Volkswagen. BMW in Germany has also expressed interest. The new biomass plant is being constructed in glass with a visitors centre attached, to allow Volvo to welcome interested parties and help encourage other manufacturers to develop similar projects.

Ford’s wind turbines

Volvo may be the first automotive manufacturer to aim for carbon free manufacturing or get so close to achieving it, but it is by no means the first to install a wind turbine.

Ford’s energy partner, Ecotricity, installed two 85-metrehigh wind turbines at the carmaker’s Dagenham estate in 2004. They have a combined capacity of 3.6MW, which will generate over 6.7 million kWh of clean electricity every year. The two turbines provide all the electricity needed to power Ford’s new Dagenham Clean Engine Facility, and around four per cent of the energy needs of the whole estate.

Ford claims the turbines prevent the emission of up to 6,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The project has been a huge success and as a result a third turbine is planned.

Stephen Abbott, Ford’s European Energy Supervisor explains that the third turbine will likely be slightly bigger than the first two, generating 2MW from exactly the same size rotor. This is because the technology has developed since 2004. However, the higher output turbine is heavier than the first two and the company is currently investigating whether it can build strong enough foundations to support it. The ground at Dagenham is either swamp or rubbish tip from the 1800s, making it extremely difficult to find a firm base for such a heavy piece of equipment will all the downward force concentrated on a single footing.

Ford is also hoping to fit two 3MW turbines in Belgium at its Genk plant. Like the Volvo project, the partner will be Electrabel. The turbines are not likely to be installed until Q4 2008 because there is currently a long lead time on the turbines themselves.

Abbott explained that Ford has an internal target to develop one renewable energy scheme for every site in Europe, but wind is not suitable for all sites. Other sites in the UK, such as Southampton and Halewood, are too close to airports, for example.

One of the barriers to wind power is concern from local residents who often criticise wind turbines because they are ‘ugly’. This was not a problem in Dagenham because it is not a particularly beautiful part of the country. Furthermore, the turbine was designed by world-renowned architect Norman Foster.

Residents near Volvo’s plant in Ghent needed some persuasion that the turbine would not alter their quality of life. The closest residence is just 300 metres away, but proving that automotive companies have the best communications and market skills to hand, Volvo established a good dialogue with residents and gave timely accurate information to them at the same time as they gave it to the local and national press, thereby managing to assuage any fears.

Sunny Bridgend?

The UK has been a Ford testbed for renewable energy before. In 1998 Ford installed 1,540 PV cells in 26 panels on the roof of its engine plant in Bridgend. This is not a warm part of Europe, and is best known for grey clouds and rain.

The installation was designed to generate a peak output of approximately 100 KW and an annual capacity of 110,000 KW-hours, and although Ford documentation says that the Bridgend solar installation will have prevented the discharge of 4,400 US tons (four million kgs) of CO2 into the atmosphere over the 30-year life of the plant.

This is a small test facility and does not generate energy to run the plant in the same way as its Dagenham wind farm. The project at Bridgend was funded jointly by Ford, the European Union and the UK’s Department for Trade and Industry to evaluate the practical application of solar technology in a manufacturing environment. When Ford fitted the solar panels it installed them on one side of new roof lights that reduced the use artificial lighting in the building. Although successful in this respect the project remains today a reference test facility rather than a significant example of energy generation.

Ford has looked at solar using solar energy elsewhere in Europe and in Germany and Spain, where solar power is subsidised, Ford has signed letters of intent for two major solar installations on its land. However, Ford will not finance these directly. Rather energy suppliers will fit the solar panels on Ford’s land that will feed straight into the electricity grid. Ford will benefit from discounted energy as a result. “We take a cut of the savings so there are no payback calculations for Ford,” says Abbott. “The investment in a 5MW installation could cost $50m and we are not in the business of investing in non-core activities.” Nevertheless Ford will get cheaper electricity and some credit for facilitating the project.

GM goes PV

GM started using PV systems to generate energy last year (2006), however not at a manufacturing plant. The installation is at GM’s Rancho Cucamonga, California Service Parts, which became operational in June 2006. GM’s Director of Corporate Responsibility and Environment & Energy, Terry Cullum, says that the facility is the largest PV installation among publicly held corporations in the United States.

The system consists of 180,000 square feet of solar panels, which provide 50 per cent of the facility’s electrical load and produce 1.5 million KWh per year.

GM is in the final stages of developing an additional solar PV installation at a facility in Fontana, California.

This project is approximately three-quarters of the size of the Rancho Cucamonga installation, and will also be a significant project, says Cullum.

EPA promotes landfill gas use

Many US vehicle manufacturers use landfill gas as a fuel source because the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long-standing program to develop industrial projects to convert methane from landfills into energy. The project, the Landfill Methane Outreach Progam (LMOP) was set up in 1994, and this now accounts for around five percent of Ford’s energy use in the US.

The EPA is interested in developing the use of landfill gas (LFG) because it destroys methane, a potent greenhouse gas, over 21 times more potent than CO2, and offsets the use of fossil fuels. Companies are persuaded to use the fuel because it is cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives.

Ford, GM and BMW, amongst others, have participated in the LMOP. GM’s Terry Cullum says his company is the largest user of landfill methane in the US. It has five plants that use methane gas from landfill sites as boiler fuel, namely Oklahoma City, Toledo, Orion, Fort Wayne and Shreveport. GM estimates that annual cost savings at its plants burning landfill gas exceed $500,000 per location.

In addition, GM also buys some electricity produced from landfill gas. According to GM documentation, overall the contribution of LFG to GM’s total energy needs was around two per cent at the end of 2005.

BMW Spartanburg wins EPA award

BMW’s Spartanburg plant was proclaimed Energy Partner of the Year by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its paint shop energy supply solution.

In May 2006 the plant converted the supply of energy at the paint shop to methane gas from landfill, which saves about 60,000 tons of CO2 a year. At the same time the plant’s annual energy costs will be cut by a six-digit Euro figure.

“The EPA suggested that we look at this,” says plant spokesperson Bunny Richardson. “We always look at a variety of environment-related technologies.”

The gas for BMW Plant Spartanburg is generated by the biological conversion of waste materials at the Palmetto Landfill Site 15km from the plant. From there the methane gas goes through a pipeline directly to the turbines on the BMW plant premises, where it is then used to generate electric power and warm water for the paint shop.

“It allows us to use a source of energy previously untapped, capitalising on this supply of energy for generating electricity and heat at our plant. This enables us to reduce emissions enormously and make a significant contribution to the cause of environmental protection,” says Briggs Hamilton, the environmental spokesman for BMW Plant Spartanburg. In all, 63 per cent of the energy consumed by the plant, and 100 per cent of the energy used by the paint shop, is now provided by methane gas.


In addition to using LFG, the facility at BMW Spartanburg is an example of cogeneration, a technology that BMW says it uses widely across its plants. Indeed, according to Dr Verena Schuler, Head of Corporate Responsibility at BMW, cogeneration has helped BMW reduce CO2 emissions from its plants by 30 per cent in the last ten years, along with switching to natural gas (which produces around 25 per cent less CO2 than burning oil), and remote heat sources.

Cogeneration has been described as the single biggest solution to the Kyoto targets. Also known as Combined Heat and Power or CHP, cogeneration is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat, both of which are used. It can offer energy savings of between 15-45 per cent compared to the supply of electricity and heat from conventional power stations and boilers. If the boiler can be run on biofuels it can generate further CO2 savings.

Renault installed a CHP facility at its plant at Flins in November 2000. The Flins plant uses natural gas to produce electricity, and recovers the heat energy, which would otherwise be lost. The gas is burned in a turbine driving an alternator that generates electricity. The heat energy contained in the turbine exhaust gas is recovered in a boiler producing high-pressure steam, which itself drives a turbo-alternator to generate more electricity. The flashed-steam is then used, according to requirements, for industrial purposes, heating and/or to produce hot water for sanitary purposes. Electricity is either consumed on-site or sold to the French electricity utility, EDF.

This income lowers the installation’s running costs and depreciation expenses.

Ford has a CHP facility in Valencia. This was installed in the mid-1980s because the Spanish government was subsidising CHP to avoid having to build a nuclear power station. The driving force behind Ford’s investment in Valencia was a 25 per cent grant, says Abbott. “In pure economic terms we have not been able to justify further investment in CHP.” Abbott explained that Ford does also have some small generators linked into paint shops but for the most part it does not produce enough heat in its processes to justify CHP plant.

Longer term Abbot would be interested in small CHP plants, on the scale of domestic heating systems to power certain processes. “There are a lot of small gas burners being used inside the paint plant that could be replaced with small gas turbines, but the technology does not appear to be ready just yet.”


Ford is looking at using wood or wood chip as a way of reducing its gas use. In fact it does have one approved and as yet unannounced project to build a biofuel power plant, but that is currently on hold because of Ford’s financial problems. Abbott is currently looking for an energy partner to externally finance the project in the same that it is working with energy suppliers on wind and solar projects.

The main impetus for reducing gas use is the European emissions trading scheme, says Abbott, although Ford does have some carbon credits and the price is currently low.

Indeed, there does appear to be an over-supply of credits in the scheme at present and this is one criticism that the European Commission will be looking to address in future years.


A further renewable energy alternative is geothermal. Working with the Munich City Utilities company, BMW has developed a concept for reducing CO2 emissions with groundwater cooling.

“The new Project House, part of the BMW Group’s Research and Innovation Centre, is cooled with groundwater that is near the surface. Groundwater cooling replaces predominantly conventional, electrically operated refrigerating machines,” explains BMW’s Dr Schuler. The cool water is taken from underground train culverts.

The project avoids up to 5.000 tons of CO2 emissions a year and saves around 7 million kW-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of more than 3,000 private households.

Ford has an industrial application of geothermal energy. Its Lima Engine plant uses quarry water to cool the air. Water from a pair of 85-foot-deep quarries on the Ohio plant property is pumped into the facility through two circulation loops. A pump house ferries cold reservoir water up to one of several heat exchangers in the plant.

Warmer water from the plant’s cooling system transfers its heat to the quarry water.

The warmed quarry water is then returned to the quarry, sprayed over the surface to encourage evaporation and minimise heat. Meanwhile, the plant water is pumped back to the plant, through more than 3,500 feet of pipe, and then re-cooled.

The development was necessitated by an increased use of aluminium, which performs better when the ambient temperature remains constant. The Lima plant started manufacturing the new aluminium Duratec 35 V-6 engine in the summer of 2006. Ford hopes to extend the cooling system to the other half of the plant, which produces the cast-iron 3.0L V-6 Vulcan engine and the AJ35 V-8 Lincoln LS engine. In addition to being environmentally friendly, the project cost $300,000 less than a traditional cooling system.

Fumes to fuel

In addition to using gas from landfill, vehicle manufacturers generate their own waste that can be converted into fuel. Ford piloted turning paint fumes to fuel in 2004 at the Ford Rouge Center, and in 2005 installed a fumes-to-fuel system at the Michigan Truck Plant.

The system generates 44kWh of electric power every hour, and reduces the need for incineration of the fumes. Ultimately, the system could power one-third of the plant’s paint shop.

The technology works by pulling volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the paint air emissions by using fluidized carbon beads. The cleansed air emissions are then sent back into the environment. The scrubbed VOCs are sent to a generator where they are transformed into electricity.

Ford says the Fumes-to-Fuel system costs less to install and maintain than existing furnaces, it virtually eliminates carbon dioxide emissions and it enables the use of higher-quality, solvent-based paint.

Mark Wherrett, one of the designers of Fumes-to- Fuel technology says: “To take something that used to be considered waste and turn it into fuel that makes electricity and really moves the environmental needle - that is extremely rewarding.” The fumes-to-fuel technology was jointly developed by Ford and Detroit Edison. Climate Technologies of Northville, Michigan acts a licensing agent for the technology worldwide and Ford and Detroit Edison receive royalties based on sales.

Fuel cells and offsetting

Longer term, fuel cells using hydrogen could be used to power manufacturing plants. Ford’s Stephen Abbott describes the Fumes-to-Fuel as a fuel cell project, and he says that Ford has a building in California with a fuel cell. All piloting of fuel cell technology for heating or lighting for Ford is taking place in the US so it is not something that is being looked at in the UK. Ford has also announced that it plans to pilot carbonneutral manufacturing for hybrid vehicles. This will be achieved by offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing of these vehicles by purchasing carbon offset credits. This is a joint programme with TerraPass in the US.

Some critics argue that offsetting is merely a means of sweeping carbon dioxide emissions under the carpet. Clearly it is better not to produce the emissions in the first place, if possible, and most people would now consider offsetting as a last resort, when all other avenues had been tried. It may also serve as an interim measure.

New urgency raising interest

Despite criticism that it is slow to reduce its CO2 emissions, it is clear that the automotive industry is a pioneer in developing low-carbon solutions to motoring and manufacturing.

However, now there is a new urgency and action needs to be taken quickly to slow the very real threat of global warming and climate change. Vehicle technology aside, with fuel prices as high as they are now, there has never been a better time to make a financial case for investing in renewable fuels in manufacturing, and many manufacturers are investigating options. Because of their influence and leadership, any lead that vehicle manufacturers take will be multiplied as they will be able to pass on their experience to a broad range of other manufacturing companies, including automotive suppliers, allowing the carbon impact of vehicle manufacturing to be reduced further.