Glenn Brooks examines developments in alternative power generation at vehicle and powertrain production plants in Europe, the US and Brazil, as well as a particularly innovative facility currently under construction in North Africa

One of the most dramatic after-effects of the radioactive contamination emergency in Japan earlier this year was the decision taken by the German government to phase out nuclear power. With carmakers being some of the country’s biggest energy users, that poses a dilemma – where to source the power needed for what most analysts agree will be a steady expansion of vehicle production in Germany? For the car industry’s largest manufacturers, Daimler, BMW, and the Volkswagen Group, down to smaller rivals in neighbouring European countries, minimizing the environmental impact of finished vehicles and the related production processes is a costly but increasingly necessary activity, driving all manufacturers to examine a range of different methods to source low CO2 power.

The initiatives range in potential delivery capacity; smaller examples include the planned installation of wind turbines at BMW’s Leipzig plant in Germany, which will make the plant CO2 neutral. This is the same facility that will manufacture limited numbers of the advanced, lightweight electric and hybrid i3 and i8 models from 2013.

On a somewhat larger scale, renewable electricity powers the main production facilities at Ford’s Niehl Plant, the Technical Centre in Merkenich, and Ford of Europe’s head office, also in Cologne-Niehl. Interestingly, power is sourced from outside Germany; the electricity used is generated by three hydropower plants located in Norway and Sweden.

Heating is another area where alternate energy providers are helping Ford of Europe to lower emissions and expenses. The division’s Merkenich Technical Centre is now heated by steam provided by RheinEnergie. In an interesting case of energy reuse, the steam is a by-product of the utility provider’s co-generation power plant. Fed through a 2.6km pipeline to the technical centre’s boiler house, Ford’s data shows that its alternate energy supply schemes for Niehl and Merkenich have cut annual CO2 emissions by 190,000 tonnes.

In the UK, Ford of Britain’s ongoing expansion of its Dagenham Diesel Centre (DDC) in East London continues. A third wind turbine, the plant’s largest and most powerful yet, was installed in August this year, after being deemed necessary to provide power for the production of a new range of 1.4- and 1.6-litre diesel engines. The new turbine at DDC is 120m tall, with windmill blades that measure 82m in diameter; the assembly, including the hub, was hoisted 80m into the air for installation. This was carried out by one of the UK’s largest cranes, which was delivered to the site by four articulated trucks and itself required a 160-tonne crane to be assembled.

Ford Dagenham

Ford Dagenham third wind turbine data

Rotor diameter: 82m
Hub height: 79m
Capacity: 2.3MW
Green electricity per year: 5.58 million units
Homes powered (equiv): 1,692
Tonnes of CO2 saved (p.a.): 2,401
Maximum height: 120m (a 36-storey building)

Combined wind turbine data
Green electricity per year: 11.4 million units
Homes powered (equivalent): 3,400
Tonnes of CO2 saved (p.a.): 4,947

“The Ford Dagenham Diesel Centre is once again 100% wind-powered. The Ford plant building its lowest-CO2 diesel engines continues to be powered by renewable energy,” says Chris Woolacott, Ford Dagenham Diesel Centre Line Manager. Ford and its energy partner Ecotricity have collaborated since 2004, when they created London’s first wind park at Dagenham, one year after the opening of DDC. Over its history, more than 38 million engines have been manufactured at Dagenham, with the company having operated various facilities at the site since its opening in 1929.

The 475-acre DDC complex on the Thames river comprises engine, stamping and transport operations. Ford engineers and production specialists at Dagenham are responsible for the development and assembly of four-, sixand eight-cylinder diesel engines fitted to over 30 different Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Peugeot and Citroën models.

All of the electricity used at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre, a short distance from Dagenham, is also sourced from renewables. Around 3,000 engineers work at the 270-acre Dunton site. Energy, supplied by GDF, is sourced from a combination of hydro, wind and waste generation installations. Ford estimates that it is currently cutting approximately 35,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by running the centre on GDF’s clean power.

Toyota’s UK ‘eco-factory’

The largest system of solar power generation installed by any vehicle manufacturer operating in the UK is now in place at Toyota’s Burnaston plant, run by Toyota Manufacturing United Kingdom (TMUK). Burnaston, one of only five ‘ecofactories’ in the global Toyota production system, builds the Avensis saloon and estate models, the Auris hatchback, and also the Auris HSD, the first volume production full hybrid car to be built in Europe.

The 17,000 solar panels, which are arranged over 90,000m2 of industrial land within the site, have the capacity to reduces the plant’s annual CO2 emissions by an estimated 2,000 tonnes. The array also realises an energy saving equivalent of 4.6 million kWh, which, according to TMUK, is the approximate amount of power needed to build 7,000 cars a year.

All solar panels at Burnaston were installed and paid for by the power utility British Gas, which claims a feed-in tariff. Under this UK government scheme, owners are paid for the renewable electricity they produce, so TMUK is now benefitting from the renewable electricity generated by the installation.

“The launch of the new solar array marks a further significant step in our journey towards low carbon and sustainable manufacturing,” states Tony Walker, TMUK Deputy Managing Director. “This development is a key part of our ‘sustainable plant’ vision in which our production facilities are designed to work in harmony with our local community and surrounding environment. Our aim is to be a true eco plant producing eco cars built by eco-minded people.”

Other energy saving features that have been installed at the facility include a ‘brise soleil’, which is a sunshade of solar panels fitted above office windows, and a wall of solar glass which replaced the original windows.

The world’s largest solar roof

Renault and its partner Gestamp Solar are presently installing a huge system of panels that will, combined, comprise the automotive industry’s largest solar energy project. The undertaking entails Gestamp Solar fitting the panels to the roofs of Renault’s operations at its Douai, Maubeuge, Flins, Batilly, Sandouville and Cléon car and light commercial plants. Panels will also cover the roofs of the delivery and shipping centres at the Douai, Maubeuge, Flins, Batilly and Sandouville sites, and the staff carparks at Maubeuge and Cléon.

The project, which should reduce CO2 emissions by 30,000 tonnes a year, will see a total of 450,000m2 of panels installed. Not only is that equivalent to more than 63 football fields, but the installed power capacity will be 60MW - or the annual consumption of a town with 15,000 residents. The project, which began in June 2011, should see the last panels installed by February 2012.

Toyota Manufacturing UK - Environmental achievements

1996 First UK automotive plant to be awarded ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System)
2000 Solar panels installed on administration building
2002 Zero waste to landfill achieved
2003 Boiler improvements to achieve NOx reduction
2004 Waste water recycling using reverse osmosis
2004 Boiler CO2 reduced by steam pressure reduction
2005 CO2 reduction through thermal efficiency improvement
2007 Wet lake registered as site of biological importance
2008 Zero waste to incineration
2008 Increased use of natural lighting in buildings
2009 Material recycling facility opened
2009 Combined heat and power generator installed
2010 Start of Auris hybrid production

Solar power for Chevrolet Volt plant

In the US, General Motors is taking the idea of harnessing solar energy a step further than many of its rivals, thanks to a new initiative at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant in Michigan. The facility is having a system of solar panels installed which will not only generate power for manufacturing, but will also be the source of energy for a collection of EV charging bays within the complex’s car park.

That Detroit-Hamtramck is intended to become a showcase for GM’s alternative energy projects is appropriate, given that the plant builds the Chevrolet Volt extended range car. GM and its partner, DTE Energy, estimate that the 516kW project will on a daily basis generate enough power to recharge 150 electric cars with extended range capability.

DTE Energy and GM have built the array on a six-acre tract of land located on the south side of the plant. The positioning allows it to face true south to maximize solar exposure. “This array will significantly decrease energy consumption by combining solar power with ongoing efficiency tactics such as lighting and equipment upgrades, and automating equipment shut-down,” says Bob Ferguson, Vice-President of GM Public Policy. “Making sustainable choices is good for both the environment and our bottom line. Obviously cost savings is critical for GM, and the ability to save $15,000 per year while being environmental serves us well.”

The installation at Detroit-Hamtramck is part of DTE Energy’s ‘SolarCurrents’ pilot programme. This calls for enough photovoltaic systems to be installed on customer property or rooftops over a five-year period to generate 15MW of electricity across south-east Michigan.

Volkswagen’s hydropower initiative

In June 2011, Volkswagen do Brasil announced that would make an overall investment equivalent to €120m to build two hydropower plants, the combined output of which are anticipated to supply close to 40% of the company’s total energy needs.

The first power station began operations in March 2010 and is located in São Paulo state, home to three of the company’s four Brazilian vehicle production plants. The second hydro plant, which is due to commence operations during 2013, will also be in São Paulo. Volkswagen claims that the project will create 500 related jobs in the region.

In addition to the extra power generation, Volkswagen do Brasil is establishing a series of nature preservation projects. One of these is a green belt that stretches for just under six kilometres, and the reservoir of the first hydro electric plant.

An adjacent 116.5 hectare woodlands area forms part of a reforestation programme for indigenous tree species. Another of Volkswagen’s alternative power initiatives was also established in June this year, this time in Europe. This saw the Austrian power company Verbund Sales sign an agreement with Volkswagen Kraftwerk, under which approximately 10% of all electrical energy needed for Volkswagen’s group facilities will be sourced from hydropower plants operated by the utility company.

Verbund, which is due to start supplying renewable energy to Volkswagen from January 1, 2013, is Austria’s leading power company; the supplier positions itself as one of the most eco-friendly power generators in Europe. The firm generates about 29.5 billion kWh of the total electricity it produces each year at 123 hydropower plants in Austria and Germany.

The Volkswagen Group has set itself the target of lowering production-related CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020. Key aspects of that goal are the diversification of power generation and further development of renewable energy sources. In addition to this, the group plans to significantly improve the efficiency of its power generation activities by constructing two combined-cycle (gas and steam turbine) power plants, as well as five compact co-generation plants. Overall, Volkswagen is investing close to €600 million in alternative energy supplies.

Zero-emissions car plant

The Renault-Nissan Alliance boasts that its forthcoming Tangiers plant will be the world’s first automotive production facility to produce zero carbon emissions. The carmakers state that CO2 emissions will be cut by close to 98%, while water consumption will be 70% lower than at a conventional plant. The plant, which will have about 6,000 employees, will from April 2012 start production of B0-series (Logan) models, totalling 170,000 units per year. A second phase will see Nissan vehicles added to the production line up. The zero emissions claim is a bold statement, but the right systems appear to be in place to back up the rhetoric.

Individual initiatives planned for the plant include:
• thermal wheels and air/water and air/air heat exchangers will capture energy released by the onsite incinerator to heat the hot water system
• renewable energies with a neutral carbon cycle, such as biomass, thermal solar energy, photovoltaic solar energy or wind power, will meet the plant’s thermal energy requirements
• high pressure, superheated water required to heat the paint ovens will be supplied by an 18MW biomass boiler, which will also provide additional hot water. Emissions reductions in comparison to a gas-fired boiler is 100%
• only ‘green’ thermal energy from renewable sources will be used in order to reduce indirect CO2 emissions

Zero discharge, zero waste

Waste water at traditional vehicle manufacturing plants is normally cleaned using a physical-chemical processes, after which it is biologically treated using bacteria to speed up the dissolution of organic matter. But at Tangiers, Renault and Nissan are taking things one (big) step further, by installing systems that will purify between 600 and 700m3 of water every day.

In the plant’s zero-discharge facility, the purified and treated effluent will not be returned to the surrounding ecosystem, but will instead undergo two more advanced treatments that will concentrate any remaining trace pollutant particles by a factor of one thousand. After treatment by reverse osmosis and evaporation, the water can be used again in the production process, thereby minimizing the quantity of waste.

Energy recovery is set to be another key element of the plant’s eco credentials. The vehicle painting process, for example, normally accounts for up to 70% of the thermal energy consumed on site, and so represents a clear opportunity to cut energy requirements and reduce the site’s environmental impact. To cut emissions, the paintshop will be heated using recovered energy, while the booths will reuse treated air. The air used to heat the paintshop will be reclaimed via a six-tonne thermal wheel heat exchanger made of pierced aluminum and measuring six metres in diameter.

As the air emerging from the paint booths are loaded with solvents, it cannot be directly reused in the booth, so it is sent to the thermal wheel, which acts as a heat exchanger.

The air reaches the wheel at about 18°C and is expelled at 10°C, while at the same time, the incoming air is heated from 5°C to 13°C, meaning that less thermal energy is needed to heat the air. Another major advantage of the thermal wheel system is that during the hot summer months, the wheel will be used to cool the air.

Together, the various solutions will reduce the energy required to heat the painting process by 35%, a considerable chunk of the emissions cuts that will be made at this very clean production plant.