27 April 2021
27 April 2021
As the shift to electric vehicles (EVs) gathers momentum, some are daring to think of a world in which transportation – currently one of Earth’s major sources of CO2 emissions – can become carbon free. After all, with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave power now being deployed at scale in various parts of the world, the ability to charge these new-generation EVs from clean-energy sources is not just possible, it’s essential.
But producing cars that no longer release harmful tailpipe emissions is only part of the solution to the challenges facing our warming planet, since the CO2 emissions generated during the mass manufacturing of automobiles are also a contributor to global warming.
Hence why Mercedes-Benz has set out to reimagine the way it builds automobiles, creating a blueprint for carbon-free manufacturing. The goal is to ensure its global network of car plants will soon also be emissions-free, just like the electric vehicles rolling off its production lines.
The working case study for this dramatic shift is Factory 56 at Daimler’s Sindelfingen plant near Stuttgart in Germany, which is one of the most technologically advanced automotive plants in the world. As the first of a new breed of plants that will help facilitate the company’s transition to CO2-neutral production worldwide from 2022, Factory 56 provides many insights into how Daimler will achieve its Ambition 2039 sustainability strategy; a fully networked and completely CO2 neutral fleet of vehicles.
GreenFleet, the leading environmental and carbon-offsetting organisation, states that carbon neutrality means an organisation’s net greenhouse gas emissions are equal to zero, which is achieved by reducing and offsetting all emissions relating to the activities of the business.
In the case of Factory 56, this is achieved via significantly reduced energy requirements compared to a conventional automobile plant, along with an innovative energy concept that uses a rooftop photovoltaic system, a DC power grid, and energy storage systems based on reused vehicle batteries, among other things.
In this regard, Factory 56 represents a blueprint for how Daimler and the broader automotive industry can make the transition to CO2-neutral production. The concept will initially be extended so that all German Mercedes-Benz plants will have a CO₂-neutral energy supply, and beyond that to all Mercedes-Benz car plants around the world.
Sustainability is viewed and implemented on a comprehensive basis throughout the plant, with the focus on conserving resources and reducing energy consumption the cornerstones of this CO₂-neutral approach.
For example, the total energy requirement of Factory 56 is 25 per cent lower than that of other assembly facilities, and the building is supplied with self-generated green electricity from a photovoltaic system on the factory roof. This is enough to cover about 30 per cent of the annual power requirements of the plant. Some of this power flows into an innovative direct-current network, which improves the energy efficiency of the assembly shop and powers technical systems such as ventilation units.
A stationary energy bank based on vehicle batteries is also connected to the DC network. With an overall capacity of 1,400 kWh, it acts as a buffer for excess solar power from the photovoltaic system. Modern lighting throughout the factory consisting of LEDs helps lower power consumption, as does the innovative blue-sky architecture, which creates a pleasant daylight working atmosphere while saving energy.
The sustainability approach extends into ecological areas as well, with plants covering approximately 40 per cent of the factory roof area. This not only compensates for the sealed ground area, but also improves the interior climate in the building by retaining rainwater. By storing the rainwater in this way, Factory 56 relieves the burden on neighboring water sources and new green areas are created.
Even the main building of Factory 56 has its own sustainability story, since its concrete façade has been constructed of recycled concrete made from demolition material. This means that not only were valuable resources conserved during construction, but materials that would otherwise have been waste products were sustainably recycled.
Fittingly, the new generation of the world’s best-selling luxury saloon and a vehicle that always previews major shifts in automotive technologies and trends, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was first to drive off the Factory 56 production line in September 2020. Despite being the most richly appointed and technically sophisticated S-Class ever, the new model is constructed with a 25 per cent increase in assembly efficiency compared to its predecessor. The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and the EQS, the first all-electric member of the new S-Class family, will also be produced on the same line.
“In Factory 56 we have succeeded in combining flexibility, efficiency, digitalisation and sustainability,” said Ola Källenius, chairman of the board of management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG. “Factory 56 thus sets the direction for the future of automobile production at Mercedes-Benz: resource-friendly, connected and flexible. Because we consider the transformation of our industry to be a holistic task that includes products as well as the entire value chain.”
Find out more about Daimler’s Ambition 2039 and its path towards carbon-neutrality.
By Jonathan Weller