If India’s Reva Electric Car Company has its way, a new term will soon be added to the automotive lexicon: ‘Born green’. This, says the India-based firm, is how all its cars will be built in the future. But is this just greenwash or can the firm, with its 15 years’ experience in building small battery-electric cars, justify claims that cars built in its soon-to-completed 30,000upa plant will have one of the lowest ‘dust-to-dirt’ carbon footprints of any car in mass production?
Reva already exports its zero-emission electric cars to 24 countries from its base in Bangalore. It will not only add two new models in 2010 but has also recently announced a partnership with General Motors to supply technology for Chevrolet-branded EVs for the Indian market. The company insists that the design of the first model to be launched, the NXR, means it uses approximately 80% fewer parts than a conventional or hybrid car.
Further, it will be assembled in Reva’s new 18,000m2, ultra low-carbon plant that will rely heavily on solar energy, natural light and ventilation and rainwater harvesting. It may sound gimmicky but the company also states that the first charge in every Reva car will come from solar energy.
Some very strong ecological claims are being made by Reva, not only for its forthcoming NXR and NXG electric cars, but also for the state-of-the-art production facility currently under construction in the Bommasandra Industrial Area of Bangalore. The main building (see lead photo) will certainly have a modern, futuristic look to it but there are also unique contemporary forms that immediately set it apart from conventional vehicle plants. The architects have concentrated on the site’s aerodynamics, giving the complex a maximisation of space with a minimum use of volume.
So what does the OEM mean by ‘dust-to-dirt’ and can any vehicle manufacturing plant ever really be eco-friendly? Reva defines the term as carbon neutrality for the complete lifecycle of a car, i.e. from the carbon emissions generated in the parts manufacture, assembly, operation and disposal/ recycling of the vehicle. As for the ‘Born green’ philosophy, the company claims this is a commitment made at the beginning of a process that it admits will take time to determine, starting with the assembly and plant operations and then extending down the supply chain to Tier One suppliers through to vehicle disposal.
Scepticism aside, Reva does seem to have carefully thought through the validity of its claims. Nissan may have recently made headlines with its plan to recycle the battery pack in its Leaf electric car, but its far smaller Indian rival got there first. Together with the NXR and NXG prototypes shown at the IAA Motor Show in Frankfurt last September, the company also revealed plans to give the cars’ lithium-ion cells a second life, optimised by guaranteeing residual values.
Another example of how transparent Reva wants to be is its announcement is that from 2010, it will publish the carbon emissions for the assembly and lifetime operation of its cars.
At the moment, the future vehicle plant remains a construction site. Nevertheless, it is on schedule for completion by June 2010. Every part of the development has been planned in accordance with standards set by The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC-India), a benchmark standard for the design, construction and operation of highperformance green buildings.
In addition to the production facility, there will also be a test track and an administrative block housing offices, a conference area and a technology demonstration area. A specially insulated high-level roof in the manufacturing area not only covers the working environment for the 400 assembly line workers, but also incorporates a series of skylights. Natural light minimises the use of electricity on the production floor, taking advantage of the region’s high number of sunny days; a translucent honeycomb mesh will cover the eastern side of the building.
The plant will also have a rooftop solar power plant, which should provide ample energy for industrial use and also to power the site’s street lighting. Within this structure will be a dedicated technology showcase area, also powered by solar energy, as well as charging facilities for vehicle testing.
Reva has revealed only minimum details regarding another innovation, stating that what it calls a special recyclable steel structure has significantly speeded up the construction process.
In the area around the production plant, virgin soil has been conserved for landscaping purposes and what Reva calls ‘earth pods’, a virgin soil conservation strategy used for the prevention of erosion. It also prevents the soil from becoming chemically altered when used for landscaping.
Once operational, the plant will employ what are claimed to be flexible, efficient, environmentally-friendly production lines that are designed with adequate space for the on-site storage of line materials. Materials inward, manpower entry and finished goods despatch are, meanwhile, planned at different locations to maximise operational efficiency.
Bannon Automotive announced plans in October to invest US$26m in a new assembly plant for plug-in electric vehicles in New York State’s Onondaga County. The start up has been offered a further US$3m grant by Empire State Development. The facility, which will create 250 new fulltime jobs, will assemble Reva’s NXR model from late 2010 and have sole rights to Reva’s cars in the potentially huge US electric car market.
The three-door, four-seat NXR is powered by lithium-ion batteries and is claimed to offer a 160km (100 mile) range on a single charge, with a top speed of up to 104km/h (65mph).
A full charge takes eight hours from a standard outlet but only 15 mins (40km range) from a quick-charge station.
BMW Welt, a museum and vehicle delivery centre located adjacent to BMW’s global headquarters in Munich, Germany, is dominated by a 16,500m2 ‘cloud roof ’ which rises out of a striking double cone base. Supported by only 11 pendulum pillars, this 3,000-tonne structure is constructed to give the impression of a floating roof.
Professor Wolf D. Prix, the architect responsible for the design and creation of BMW Welt, says the concept for this eco-building was all about creating a beautiful building that cleverly incorporated innovative eco-credentials.
“While the first drafts still incorporated a large number of pillars and supports, we gradually reduced this number to get closer to the idea of a floating cloud. As it is now, the particular design of the roof accentuates the floating character of the building. In this process, the roof does not dominate the space occupied by the building, but rather sets it apart from everything else.”
A clear example of the philosophy can be seen in the filigree steel facade, which also provides climate control functions. Dr. Herbert Grebenc, BMW’s Director of Facility and Property Management states: “The harmonious combination of architecture, technology and optimum use of resources was a fundamental consideration in the planning process. We use natural resources – directly and indirectly – in operating BMW Welt.”
Solar energy entering the building through the 3,660 photovoltaic cells imbedded in the roof and facades is used to heat the structure. In turn, glass shell surfaces create a steady surface temperature through inherent low heat transition co-efficients. The floor and, to a certain extent, the roof structures, allow the entire building to maintain appropriate temperatures at all times. Large wall surfaces and green areas on the outside, particularly around the natural vents, facilitate ventilation. These serve to hold back dust and, in part, provide an appropriate cooling effect without any undue exchange of heat.
Volvo Trucks is making a bold claim for a cab plant it operates at Umeå in northern Sweden, stating that this will soon be an entirely carbon-neutral factory. One of the key drivers of this achievement will be replacing propane with dimethyl ether (DME) and by cutting energy consumption by diverting an ice-cold underground river to cool production machinery. The truck-making division of AB Volvo also says ‘considerable environmental improvements’ in the paintshop at Umeå have further helped to create what it believes is the world’s cleanest and most energy-efficient paintshop.
For several years now, Volvo Trucks has been investing heavily to improve the efficiency of its energy usage, with the goal of a carbon dioxide-neutral factory using locally produced energy. For example, energy consumption has fallen by 30% per manufactured cab in the last decade, even during a period that witnessed a record increase in production volumes. This follows Volvo Trucks’ overall environmental goals, including one stating that every large production plant must be carbon-neutral by 2010.
“For us, Umeå is a shining example and a symbol of our environmental commitment. The factory has for many years worked very successfully with environmental issues, generated highly innovative solutions and shown in concrete terms that this commitment benefits both the company and the environment,” says Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director at Volvo Trucks.
Currently, 90% of the cab plant’s energy comes from renewable sources. Of the 106 GWh the Umeå factory consumed in 2008, 13% was still propane, even though propane consumption had been halved since 2006. Part of this reduction process has been cutting the volume of propane used for the painting ovens and replacing it with district heating. The result is that propane is the only fossil fuel still being used onsite.
All told, CO2 emissions have been cut by 8,000 tonnes per year, while recycled energy recently reached an average rate of 80 GWh per year. Yet with the 100% target in mind, Volvo is determined to phase out even the small amount of propane it still uses at the complex. This is now being replaced by DME produced from biomass. Volvo Trucks’ partners in this project include Umeå University, Umeå Energi and Ö-vik Energi.
“The DME project is a good example of how research, business and society work smoothly together to find solutions that really work,” Lars Mårtensson adds.
A spectacular example of energy conservation is the clever cooling system that has been employed at the Umeå cab factory for the past 12 months. Situated by the banks of the Ume River, the Volvo plant is able to take advantage of an underground ice river, which summer or winter, maintains its near-freezing temperature. Pumping the water from two kilometres beneath the surface, Volvo states that the chilled water has replaced many of the cab factory’s refrigeration plants - which would otherwise use cooling agents such as freon. The biggest consumer of cooling water, however, is the air dehumidification unit that feeds dry air to the paintshop.
Volvo states that the cooling effect corresponds to a total energy saving of 3,000kW.
Energy savings and environmental improvements have also recently been made in the factory’s paintshop.
The facility itself has been modernised with production streamlined at several stages, with the result being a cut in the consumption of not only paint and solvents but also lower emissions to the surrounding air. In 1988, solvent emissions to the air were about 70 grams per square metre of cab surface but Volvo Trucks now says the emissions are below 10 grams, dramatically undercutting the European Union mandate of 55 grams per square metre.
“We are now the world’s cleanest paintshop as regards emissions of solvents to the air, and it is our aim to maintain this lead,” says Anders Olausson, Plant Director at Volvo Trucks in Umeå. “We intend to continue our drive to be even regarding both environment-impacting emissions and energy consumption. We can see that what we’re doing is good for the environment, and also that it leads to better production economy for us.”
Critics of the third generation Toyota Prius gasolineelectric hybrid claim it might not be nearly as eco-friendly as billed. They point the finger at the supposedly complex manufacturing processes employed to build it, as well as the consumption of what are claimed to be excessive resources required for many of its components.
The Tsutsumi plant that builds the Prius is, Toyota points out, one of five so-called Eco-Factories around the world that have pioneered clean operations and the use of renewable energy sources. The guiding principle is that such plants will establish new methods of working for other factories to eventually adopt.
The Tsutsumi complex contains 50,000m2 of solar panels generating up to 2,000kW of energy an hour; enough to meet half the site’s total power requirements. The remaining electricity comes from a highly-efficient gas co-generation system.
As ever with the Toyota Production System, waste is the enemy. At the Prius plant, energy-saving lighting is used, with sunlight ducts designed into the buildings to flood them with natural light. A control system cuts the level of electricity used when the plant is not in production and regular staff patrols take place to monitor energy usage.
Large surface areas of the assembly plant itself have been treated with photocatalytic paint. This reacts to sunlight, releasing active oxygen into the atmosphere, helping to break down harmful airborne substances. Recently, 50,000 trees were also planted within the grounds of the site.
The facts back up Toyota’s labeling of the location as an eco-factory. No waste has been sent to landfill since 1999, and incineration has been cut by 82%, to 730 tonnes. The company is not yet satisfied, however. It would like to see this level reach zero.
A tie-up with Oorja Protonics means Nissan North America (NNA) has just become the first vehicle manufacturer to commercially deploy methanol fuel cells to power its material handling equipment (tugs). Oorja Protonics’ OorjaPac fuel cells are being utilised at NNA’s Smyrna, Tennessee car and light truck manufacturing plant. They provide a more energy efficient and cost-effective battery charging process for the 60 tugs that are used to transport thousands of vehicle parts throughout the 5.4m sq. ft. facility.
“Nissan is constantly looking at the impact our business activities have on the environment, and at the same time, how we can become more efficient,” Mark Sorgi, Manager, Material Handling states. “The methane fuel cells are helping us in both areas by reducing our CO2 emissions and better utilizing our resources.”
Thanks to the use of OorPac fuel cells, NNA has been able to dispose of more than 70 electric battery chargers.
These were consuming almost 540,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Not only will the fuel cells reduce Nissan’s electricity bill, but they eliminate more than 300 tons of annual CO2 emissions that were previously being released into the atmosphere. The only by-products of the electrochemical reaction in the fuel cells are pure water and heat.
The process of retrofitting the 60 tugs with methanol fuel cells is now underway at Smyrna. NNA notes they that are easily, quickly and safely filled with methanol by plant technicians. The fuel cell provides a constant charge that puts less strain on the tugs electrical system, increasing the life of the battery and other electrical parts.