The production of automobiles with alternative drive systems involves the use of raw materials that are either only available in limited quantities or whose extraction can have a negative impact on the environment. We therefore seek to close the material loops in our entire value chain. This ambition is the driving force for a variety of measures to reduce resource consumption in all areas – from development to recycling. In this manner, we plan to increasingly decouple resource consumption per vehicle from the company’s sales growth.
Closing loops, reducing raw material consumption
While the material composition of vehicles with conventional drive systems will not change significantly, the growth of electric mobility will substantially change material usage for drive systems, batteries, and power electronics. To date, drive system-specific components such as combustion engines and transmissions have primarily consisted of steel and iron materials as well as aluminum. These materials are expected to be available in sufficient amounts and they can be incorporated back into established cycles at the end of a vehicle’s life. However, the current generations of drive system batteries require the metals lithium, cobalt, and nickel. It is not known whether these raw materials will be available in large enough amounts to meet the rising demand in the long run. This creates challenges for supply chains that are dependent on such raw materials. Moreover, most of the required metal ores are mined in developing countries and emerging markets. As a result, we bear a special responsibility for the environmental and social impact of raw material procurement.
Since to the average life expectancy of a battery-electric vehicle is more than ten years, it will take many years before the raw and input materials used in it can be returned to the raw materials cycle in large quantities. Newly mined raw materials will have to be primarily used until then. That is why we are helping our battery cell suppliers in their efforts to reduce the amount of critical raw materials such as cobalt in their batteries or to replace these materials entirely.
How we are increasing the resource efficiency of our vehicles
The units for vehicle design, vehicle development, production planning, procurement, and production are mainly responsible for resource conservation. We make decisions concerning these areas in the corresponding specialist committees. Our corporate management is always involved in the making of fundamental decisions regarding design concepts, manufacturing technologies, and material utilization. When making final decisions, the management takes into account not only the costs but also other factors such as the industrialization possibilities. In doing so, the management examines whether the outcome of development work regarding raw materials, for example, can be transferred to large-scale industrial production.
Daimler has invested in resource-efficient technologies and production processes for batteries for many years. We strive to further increase energy density, so that more energy can be stored without increasing the battery volume. In addition, the batteries will become significantly lighter, which will have a positive effect on vehicle handling and fuel consumption. Finally, the material composition of the lithium-ion battery cells will change. The combination of nickel, manganese, and cobalt that is normally used today may soon be a thing of the past, because the cobalt is to be largely replaced by nickel. From 2025 onwards, it is expected that the so-called post-lithium-ion technologies, which do not require nickel or cobalt at all, will probably be technically tested to such an extent that they can be used in vehicles.
Daimler’s procurement unit analyses which products and raw materials are currently critical with regard to their availability or might become critical in the future, in a process established over many years. It utilizes a variety of measures to ensure that we are supplied with sufficient amounts of the materials that we need to manufacture our vehicles. These measures include hedging against price developments on the futures market.
Effectively reducing material utilization
Development activities at Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans focus, among other things, on further reducing the use of resources and their environmental impact. Between now and 2030, we have set ourselves the goal of reducing the use of primary resources in the areas of drivetrain and battery technology by 40 percent compared to today’s electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Our target is to further increase energy density, so that more energy can be stored without increasing the battery volume. In addition, the batteries will become significantly lighter. We already use resource-conserving materials such as recycled plastics and renewable raw materials in a variety of components and are continuously expanding this use with each new generation of vehicles. Moreover, we are using new lightweight materials and technologies such as sandwich structures and MuCell® in order to conserve resources and reduce weight.
Besides using large amounts of secondary materials, we extensively recycle vehicles and their components. We are actively involved in the research and development of new recycling technologies for our high-voltage batteries, and we promote their establishment on the market.
Measures for reducing resource consumption
Daimler consumes around 7.7 million tons of raw materials each year to manufacture its products. Some of these substances can be categorized as scarce or critical. We therefore monitor them closely and try to continuously reduce the amount of these materials that is needed per vehicle. These activities are based on our “Design for Environment” approach, which means that our vehicles are designed in early stages of their development to be as resource-conserving and environmentally friendly as possible. This approach encompasses three aspects: life cycle assessments, lightweight engineering, and recycling.
The life cycle assessment of the EQC 400 4MATIC
Production phase. The specific drive system components of the EQC (Electric power consumption combined: 20.8-19.7 kWh/100 km; CO2 emissions combined: 0 g/km)1 require more material and energy to be used during production than is the case with a comparable conventionally powered vehicle. However, the materials used are not lost at the end of the vehicle’s service life; instead, they can largely be recycled and reused. The high-voltage batteries also contain valuable materials that can mostly be regained by means of targeted recycling. In total, 95 percent of the EQC can be recovered. Our life cycle assessments take into account not only a vehicle’s recyclability but also its CO2 emissions. On the basis of the EU electricity mix, about 51 percent of the CO2 emissions produced during the entire life cycle of an electric vehicle is generated during production. This is due in part to the complex battery production process.
Use phase. The use phase plays a crucial role in the environmental footprint of the EQC. For the analysis of the use phase, we examined two sources of energy for charging the high-voltage battery. The EQC achieves the highest level of energy efficiency, and thus the lowest CO2 emissions, when it uses renewably generated hydroelectricity. The analysis of the CO2 emissions in the individual life cycle phases clearly shows that as more and more vehicles are electrified, the focus shifts toward the production of the high-voltage battery and the generation of the electricity used to charge the battery from the outside.
Life cycle assessments for creating resource-efficient vehicles
In order to evaluate the environmental compatibility of a vehicle, Daimler has for many years now been producing life cycle assessments. We systematically examine a car’s environmental effects throughout its entire life cycle – from the extraction of raw materials and vehicle production to product use and recycling. The evaluation of resource efficiency also takes into account other factors such as the medium-term and long-term availability of raw materials, public acceptance, and the various social and environmental effects and risks. In the development of our cars, we use life cycle assessments to evaluate and compare different vehicles, components, and technologies.
Finding the right mixture
Intelligent lightweight construction can reduce vehicle weight without sacrificing safety and comfort. In this context, the selection of materials as well as the component design and manufacturing technology also play an important role. Not every material is suitable for every component, for example in the context of occupant safety. At 35 percent, the bodyshell accounts for the biggest share of the total weight of a car with a conventional drive system. This is followed by the chassis at 25 percent, the comfort and safety equipment at 20 percent, and the engine and transmission at 20 percent. Thus the most effective approach is to focus on the vehicle bodyshell.
For example, lightweight construction measures have enabled us to reduce the weight of the current E-Class in all assembly versions by up to 80 kg compared to the predecessor series. This has enabled us to increase its payload while at the same time reducing its fuel consumption. Since the middle of 2019, we have been using the new manufacturing technique FibreTEC3D for the E-Class and other vehicles. This technique employs ultralight carbon components.
The weight ratios are different in plug-in hybrids and even more so in all-electric vehicles due to the battery’s added weight. Because the battery can account for approximately 25 percent of total vehicle weight, we are working on making our batteries lighter.
Implementing recyclability along the value chain
During vehicle development, we also prepare a recycling concept for every vehicle model. This concept includes an analysis of the suitability of all components and materials for the various stages of the recycling process. As a result, all Mercedes-Benz car models are 85 percent recyclable in accordance with ISO 22 628. Moreover, the European End-of-Life Vehicles Directive 2000/53/EC specifies that 95 percent of the materials in passenger cars and vans with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3.5 tons have to be capable of being reused or recovered. In addition to adhering to these requirements, we focus on the following measures:
- the resale of tested and certified used parts, for example through the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center (GTC),
- the remanufacturing of used parts,
- the workshop waste disposal system MeRSy (Mercedes-Benz Recycling System).
Used Parts Center (GTC)
The Used Parts Center (Gebrauchtteile Center – GTC) is a Group-owned specialized facility that has been dismantling more than 5,000 end-of-life vehicles per year since 1996. It ensures that as many parts as possible can be reused and resold. On average, one-fifth of the parts are approved for disassembly. However, the aim of disassembly is not only to remove used parts, but also to recycle materials such as copper cables, aluminum and iron scrap, glass, plastics, and shock absorbers. Platinum and rhodium can be recovered from catalytic converters, and used tires can be processed into an additive for asphalt concrete used in road construction.
In addition, precious metals are contained in electronic waste such as circuit boards. One example is the gold coating of plug contacts. As an integral part of the recycling process chain, the GTC plays a major role in keeping raw materials in circulation.
In order to prevent waste and the unnecessary consumption of energy and raw materials wherever possible, we remanufacture used parts from cars, vans, and trucks, such as engines and transmissions, to give them a new lease on life.
We remanufacture used original Mercedes-Benz parts in such a way that their functionality, safety, and quality correspond to those of a new part. To ensure this, the used parts taken out of our Mercedes-Benz vehicles are carefully disassembled, cleaned, and industrially remanufactured according to series standards. A calculation by the TÜV SÜD technical inspectorate shows what this means in concrete figures: For example, the remanufacturing of a truck transmission generates 445 kg less CO2 and consumes 7,300 MJ less energy than the production of a new part.
We also want to offer remanufactured components as supplements of new parts to our customers using electric and hybrid vehicles. We already offer around 140 different parts in this segment, including HV batteries and related components. There is a demand for these parts, and this demand will probably grow considerably due to the electric mobility offensive.
The recycling of drive batteries from plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles will play a major role in keeping valuable materials in economic circulation. Daimler is currently operating or building nine production facilities for drive batteries on three continents. In this connection we are also setting up corresponding battery recycling and remanufacturing facilities. Moreover, our partnership with leading battery cell supplier Farasis encompasses not only the production of battery cells using electricity from renewable sources of energy, but also recycling and respect for human rights within the supply chain.
Workshop waste disposal system
Waste material created during the maintenance or repair of our vehicles is collected and recycled or professionally disposed of via MeRSy – the Mercedes-Benz Recycling System, our system for the management and disposal of workshop waste. This material consists of vehicle-specific used parts and waste such as tires, catalytic converters, coolant/brake fluids, and packaging. In 2019, a total of 30,083 tons of old parts and materials were collected in Germany and recycled. Around 1,474 tons of coolant, 656 tons of brake fluid, 9,157 tons of old tires, and 2,448 tons of car glass were recycled.
Use of resource-conserving materials
Closing material cycles and the use of renewable raw materials are the main measures for the responsible utilization of resources.
One way that material cycles can be closed is by using recyclates. These are recycled plastics that come wholly or partially from processed production waste or old materials. Many parts made of recycled materials can be installed into an automobile, depending on the specific vehicle variant and the technical requirements for the component in question. One example is the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQC1, which customers can order with seat cover textiles made of one hundred percent recycled PET bottles. In the basic variant of the E-Class, a total of 72 components with a combined weight of 54.4 kilograms can be manufactured with a share of high-quality recycled plastics. Typically, these include wheel arch linings, cable ducts, and underbody paneling, which are mainly made of plastic.
The use of recyclates is also getting increased political support. For example, the European Commission has supplemented the European End-of-Life Vehicles Directive 2000/53/EC with the European plastics strategy, which requires manufacturers to use more recycled materials during vehicle production in order to strengthen the markets for recycled materials. For years now, we have therefore required the specifications of new Mercedes-Benz cars to include a minimum proportion of components containing recycled materials. This proportion varies, depending on the vehicle’s model and series. There is no uniform requirement for all model series.
In order to increase the use of recycled materials and promote the networking of the Mercedes-Benz supply chain, we organize workshops about relevant topics concerning the use of plastic recyclates. At these workshops, our component and recyclate suppliers present newly developed recycled materials and the successful conversion of components. This enables the participants from the fields of development, materials engineering, and quality assurance to obtain first-hand information and directly discuss technical issues.
Using renewable raw materials
The use of renewable raw materials also offers us many advantages. For example, they can often help to reduce component weight. Moreover, their CO2 balance is almost neutral when their energy is recovered, because only as much CO2 is released as was absorbed by the plant during its growth. Last but not least, renewable raw materials as well as recyclates help reduce the consumption of fossil resources. We employ a broad range of renewable raw materials such as hemp, kenaf, wool, paper, and natural rubber.
The new EQC1 shows what can already be achieved today. Many of the components of this all-electric car can partially be made of resource-conserving materials. For example, kenaf fibers are used for the load compartment cover and as paper in the honeycomb core of the load compartment floor. Here natural fibers are replacing mineral fibers such as glass fiber. All in all, 100 components and other small parts with a total weight of 55.7 kilograms are affected, including pushbuttons, plastic nuts, and cable fixings.
1 see appendix: labeling