Our vehicles: Decoupling resource consumption from growth
The global economy is growing, and the demand for mobility is increasing. These trends are accompanied by increased resource consumption that can be detrimental to the environment and society. For example, in many cases the extraction and further processing of primary raw materials is energy-intensive and leads to the emission of pollutants into water, soil, and air. No less important is the fact that the use of natural resources also harbors social risks. A fair distribution of raw materials, secure access to clean drinking water, and observance of human rights in the course of raw material extraction are only a few of the problematic issues.
Today our vehicles mainly consist of materials such as steel, iron, aluminum, and plastic. Even though materials such as steel, iron, and aluminum will probably be available in sufficient quantities in the future, our goal is nonetheless to keep the consumption of the natural resources needed to produce them at a low level. For example, we plan to recycle our aluminum scrap so that we can reuse this material in our vehicles via the material cycle. This will not only conserve valuable resources but also reduce CO2 emissions, because large amounts of energy are needed for aluminum smelting.
However, the expansion of electric mobility is changing the need for materials for vehicle production. The drive batteries of today’s generation of electric vehicles require metals such as lithium, cobalt or 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. However, the raw materials built into a battery-electric vehicle return to the raw material cycle only after many years, so newly extracted raw materials are mainly used until then. This creates challenges for supply chains that are dependent on such raw materials. Our goal is therefore to increasingly decouple resource consumption from sales growth. To this end, we are working to close material cycles and make our processes more efficient. This is how we plan to reduce our consumption of raw materials overall.
How we are effectively decreasing resource consumption
At Daimler, the units that are mainly responsible for resource conservation are vehicle concepts, vehicle development, purchasing, production planning, and production. We make decisions concerning these areas in the specialist committees responsible for the respective model series. These committees consist of the respective subsection representatives and expert groups such as those dealing with specific groups of materials. Corporate management is always involved in fundamental decision-making regarding design concepts, manufacturing technologies, and the utilization of materials. When making such decisions, the management takes multiple factors into account. These include costs, resource-efficient technologies, the use of alternative materials such as secondary materials and renewable raw materials, and the potential for industrialization. During this process, management examines to what extent the results of development can be transferred to large-scale industrial production, for example with regard to the use of raw materials.
Daimler consumes around 6,5 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. To this end, we use the “Design for Environment” approach as early as during the vehicle development stage. We design our vehicles to be as resource-conserving and environmentally friendly as possible during their entire life cycle. The cornerstones of this approach are life cycle assessments, lightweight engineering, the use of recycled materials, and recycling.
Life cycle assessments for creating resource-efficient vehicles
In order to evaluate the environmental compatibility of a vehicle, Daimler carries out life cycle assessments. We systematically examine the vehicle’s environmental effects throughout its life cycle — from the extraction of raw materials and vehicle production to product use and recycling. In order to evaluate its resource efficiency, we take a number of additional factors into account, such as the medium-term and long-term availability of raw materials, acceptance by the public, and the vehicle’s various social and environmental effects and risks. In the development of our cars, we also use life cycle assessments to evaluate and compare different vehicles, components, and technologies.
The life cycle assessment of the A 250 e1
Production phase. The specific drive components of the A 250 e plug-in hybrid lead to the use of more materials and energy in the production process — and thus to higher CO2 emissions than those of conventional combustion-engine vehicles. However, the materials used are not lost at the end of the vehicle’s service life; instead, they can largely be recycled and reused. This also applies to the valuable materials contained in the high-voltage batteries. In total, 95 percent of the A 250 e can be recovered. However, only by looking at the entire life cycle of a vehicle (materials production, vehicle production, driving operation for 160,000 kilometers, and recycling) can we get a realistic picture of its life cycle assessment.
Use phase. The use phase plays the most crucial role in the environmental footprint of the A 250 e. This is where the high efficiency of the electric drivetrain gives the model an advantage. For the analysis of the use phase, Mercedes-Benz examined various sources of energy for charging the high-voltage battery. The A 250 e achieves the highest level of energy efficiency, and the lowest CO2 emissions, when the battery is charged with renewably generated hydroelectric power.
Analysis of the CO2 emissions in the individual phases of the life cycle clearly shows that as more and more vehicles are electrified, the focus is shifting toward the production of the high-voltage battery and the generation of the electricity for charging the battery.
Identifying critical raw materials by means of the ESSENZ method
Several types of raw materials that are needed for the production of electric vehicles are associated with certain risks. In order to better assess how critical the use of a raw material is or can become, Daimler’s car division teamed up with partners from industry and science in 2015 to conduct the ESSENZ research project. The result has been a holistic approach that our engineers are already following in the early phases of vehicle development. The use of the ESSENZ method is based on the life cycle assessment methodology, which makes it possible to systematically analyze the environmental effects of a vehicle along its entire life cycle. The ESSENZ approach not only examines the geological availability of a raw material but also takes socioeconomic factors and social and societal risks into account.
We steadily optimize and refine our drive batteries
Batteries are a key component of electric mobility. At Daimler, experts from a variety of disciplines deal with all aspects of this storage technology, ranging from fundamental research to production maturity.
Daimler has invested in resource-efficient technologies and production processes for batteries for years. We are constantly working to optimize the present-day lithium-ion battery. Here we are pursuing two goals: We want to steadily reduce the proportion of cobalt in our batteries, and we also want to only procure battery cells containing cobalt and lithium from certified extraction. To reach this second goal, Mercedes-Benz Procurement, for example, is now cooperating only with suppliers who extract raw material from certified sources in compliance with the respected “Standard for Responsible Mining” of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
It is very likely that there will soon be a solution for reducing the proportion of cobalt in lithium-ion battery cells. New technologies are making it possible to change the proportions of nickel, manganese, and cobalt. The use of nickel-rich materials, in which additional nickel is substituted for cobalt, reduces costs and boosts the storage capacity of batteries. Cobalt can also be replaced with special manganese compounds. The advantage of this option is that there is already an effective recycling process for manganese, which has been used for decades for alkaline batteries, for example.
Meanwhile, we are conducting research on next-generation alternative battery systems with the aim of shortening development cycles, expanding ranges by means of improved energy density, and reducing charging times. We also want these battery systems to perform better in terms of sustainability in the future. To promote a holistic approach to the value chain, Mercedes-Benz has established a sustainability partnership with Farasis Energy (Ganzhou) Co., Ltd. Some of the battery cells used in the next generation of vehicles will already be manufactured using electricity obtained exclusively from renewable sources.
We are steadily expanding our research and development activities so that we can develop new generations of batteries. As part of this effort, we are developing our expertise regarding the technological evaluation of materials and battery cells. We are also cooperating with the Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) to drive the development of current and future battery technologies. CATL is currently working to develop pioneering battery generations that should be utilized in many vehicles in the years ahead.
Using recycled and renewable raw materials
The closing of material cycles and the use of renewable raw materials are key measures for the responsible utilization of resources. In order to achieve these goals, we are using resource-efficient technologies and production processes. We are also increasingly using secondary materials and renewable resources in our vehicles. Mercedes-Benz has set itself the target of increasing the share of secondary raw materials in its car fleet by an average of 40 percent by 2030.
We want to increase our transparency in the areas where secondary raw materials are used in our products. For this purpose we are using environmental certificates that are open to public view. Among other things, these certificates provide information about the vehicle components made of recycled materials and renewable raw materials in each model series.
Recycled plastics can be used in many different ways
We use many components made of recycled materials in our products, depending on the specific vehicle variant and the technical requirements.
One example of this is the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQC (combined electrical consumption: 21.5-20,1 kWh/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 0 g/km)2,3. Customers can order this vehicle with high-quality seat cover textiles made of 100 percent recycled PET bottles. In addition, 43 larger components that are mostly made of plastic, such as wheel arch linings and underbody paneling, have been replaced with recycled materials. There is also a multitude of small parts such as pushbuttons, plastic nuts, and cable fasteners. It has thus been possible to manufacture components with a total weight of 36.9 kilograms partly from recycled materials.
In 2020 Daimler entered into a partnership with the bioplastics manufacturer UBQ Materials via the innovation platform STARTUP AUTOBAHN. This startup from Israel recycles household waste and uses it to produce a new material that is 100 percent recycled and 100 percent recyclable. By conducting research on this new resource, Daimler is taking a further step in the direction of a robust circular economy.
This bioplastic could soon be used for the series production of a lightweight load compartment trough. If the results of the additional feasibility studies planned for 2021 permit, this CO2-neutral recyclate could also be used for the prototype and series production of bumpers for buses, cable ducts, and pallet boxes.
The use of recycled materials is also receiving 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 in vehicle production. Since 2000, our requirement specifications for new Mercedes-Benz cars have stipulated a minimum proportion of components containing recycled materials. This proportion varies depending on the vehicle’s model and series.
To promote the use of recycled materials, Mercedes-Benz is encouraging its experts to share information with one another and with suppliers of automobile components and recyclates. In addition to regularly occurring workshops and technology forums, we also organized a lecture series about plastic recyclates in 2020. During these meetings, the suppliers can also gather into small groups to discuss technical issues, present newly developed recycled materials, and report on successful switches to components made of recyclates.
Using renewable raw materials
Renewable raw materials also offer us many advantages. By using them we can reduce the weight of components. 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 help to reduce the consumption of fossil resources. We utilize a broad range of renewable raw materials such as hemp, kenaf, wool, paper, and natural rubber.
The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class shows how many components can be partially manufactured from renewable raw materials. For the interior of the S-Class we developed a microsandwich material that is reinforced with natural fibers in many components. It is used in the map pockets in the door trims, in the tensioning part of seat backrests, and for the rear shelf. This material weighs 40 percent less than a comparable conventional component. The resulting weight reduction leads to a decreased need for primary energy along the vehicle’s path from production to use and finally to the end-of-life phase. Because of its breaking strength, the material based on natural fibers also helps to make vehicles safer.
Through effective lightweight construction we make our vehicles more economical and more efficient
Intelligent lightweight construction can reduce vehicle weight without compromising our high standards of safety and comfort. This means that we need to select the right materials. Component design and manufacturing technology also play an important role. 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 suspension 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.
In the area of lightweight body construction, Mercedes-Benz is increasingly working with aluminum alloys for exposed automotive paneling (hood, fenders, roof, trunk lid) and reinforcement components (hood lining, roof reinforcement). Aluminum is not only lightweight but can also be recycled many times without loss of quality. Its recycling process requires only about five percent of the energy that would be needed to produce new aluminum.
Thanks to a holistic lightweight construction concept, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is up to 65 kilograms lighter than its predecessor model. The body is produced by means of an aluminum-steel hybrid construction process. Mercedes-Benz has significantly increased the percentage of aluminum in this process compared to that of the predecessor model; all of the components, including the main floor, now consist of aluminum. By comparison with the predecessor model series, the body of the new S-Class is 30 kilograms lighter. The brand has also paid particular attention to the topic of unsprung mass. Today weight-optimized and aerodynamic aluminum rims that can further reduce fuel consumption are available for the S-Class as a result.
The value-added chain is becoming a value-added cycle
The overarching goal of the circular economy is to maintain the value of products, components, and materials as long as possible. This basic principle has also been embedded in EU legislation since 2015. Daimler too is increasingly depending on measures that promote the circular economy. We subscribe to the following hierarchy of waste: The top goal is to avoid waste. In order to reach this goal, we are working to extend the service life of all vehicle components — for example, by using especially long-lasting materials. We are also using resources efficiently and reducing the use of raw materials that are only available in limited amounts. Only then do we move down the hierarchy of waste to measures for reusing various components and parts and for recovering materials by means of recycling.
Reuse — new life for used parts
In 1996 we set up the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center (MB GTC), a Group-owned specialist business that disassembles more than 5,000 vehicles per year. The sale of the parts that are disassembled there to repair shops and final customers means that we are reusing these parts to the greatest possible extent and guaranteeing a range of products for repairs that reflect a vehicle’s current value.
However, the stringent quality checks sometimes make it impossible to reuse a component as a replacement part. The logical next goal is the recovery of important materials. For example, every cable contains copper. Plug connectors salvaged from electronic scrap are gold-plated. Platinum and rhodium can be extracted from catalytic converters. In addition to precious metals, many components also contain aluminum and iron scrap, glass (panes), and plastic. Even used tires can be reused as aggregate in road construction.
These are only a few examples, but they show what a major role the MB GTC is playing as an integral part of the recycling process chain that keeps raw materials in circulation.
Remanufacturing — value retention for prolonging life
In remanufacturing, Mercedes-Benz reconditions used vehicle parts for subsequent reuse them. In the process, the used Mercedes-Benz genuine parts for cars, vans, and trucks are reconditioned in such a way that their functionality, safety, and quality correspond to those of a new component. The vehicle parts are only recycled when they can no longer be reused in a vehicle.
Remanufacturing makes it possible to avoid waste, conserve raw materials, and reduce energy consumption. A calculation certified by TÜV SÜD shows that remanufacturing a Type OM 906 diesel engine saves about 527 kilograms of carbon dioxide and 7,248 megajoules (2,013 kWh) of energy compared to a new part.
Re-utilization of high-voltage batteries
The lithium-ion battery is the centerpiece of each electric vehicle. However, its production requires a great deal of energy. Besides, lithium-ion batteries contain a number of rare raw materials such as lithium or cobalt. For this reason, we strive to reuse batteries before they are recycled. Reprocessing a used battery consumes much less energy and raw materials than producing a new one. And every reprocessed battery reduces the volume of waste, because it forestalls the production of a new battery to meet the demand for replacement parts or other applications.
Defective batteries are reprocessed for reuse in vehicles. Because of our high quality standards, this is the fate of most of the batteries that are sent to our central reprocessing plant in Mannheim. After being reprocessed in line with the requirements of series production, the batteries are closely inspected to ensure that their function and quality are the same as those of a new part.
Batteries that are no longer suitable for reuse in a vehicle — for example, because their residual capacity is too low — can be reprocessed for use in a stationary energy storage unit. This is how we improve the environmental balance of electric vehicles while also contributing to the establishment of a sustainable energy industry. These energy storage systems can offset fluctuations in electricity production from renewable sources, smooth out load peaks, and serve as backup power sources for an uninterrupted energy supply. Many energy storage systems of this kind, with a total capacity of more than 95 MWh, are already operating in Germany.
Mercedes-Benz reached a further milestone in the reporting year when it developed the “Mercedes-Benz energy storage unit.” This is a container storage system that makes it possible to integrate an unchanged vehicle battery into an energy storage environment. Such a stationary energy storage unit with a capacity of 1,400 kWh is already in operation at the newly commissioned Mercedes-Benz Factory 56. It can also store solar energy and release it at night or on overcast days.
Moreover, a partnership agreement for the use of stationary energy storage systems for hydroelectric power plants was signed in December 2020 by Mercedes-Benz Energy GmbH, which is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz AG, and ANDRITZ Hydro GmbH, a subsidiary of the international technology group ANDRITZ AG.
Recycling — keeping the end in mind from the very start
When we develop products, we keep the circular economy in mind from the very start, and we prepare a recycling concept for each new vehicle model. This process includes analyzing all the components and materials to find out how suitable they are 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 material in passenger cars and vans with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3.5 tons has to be capable of being reused or recovered.
Mercedes-Benz recycles drive batteries
Only after it is no longer possible to reuse a battery it is recycled in order to recover valuable raw materials.
Today we are already able to go far beyond the recycling quotas that are prescribed for drive batteries by law. The battery housings, the cables, and the busbars can be recycled without any difficulty. Recycling the high-voltage battery modules, where most of the rare materials are embedded, is somewhat more complicated. The processes already exist, but they still need to be refined so that the valuable raw materials inside the battery cells can be recovered in as pure a state as possible.
Mercedes-Benz is actively involved in the research and development of new recycling technologies for our vehicle batteries, and we promote their establishment on the market. To this end, Mercedes-Benz is cooperating with specialized partner companies to further optimize the recycling process. In addition, Mercedes-Benz is participating in funding and research projects and forging ahead with the development of innovative technologies for the environmentally friendly and economical reuse of valuable raw materials. Our goal is to further increase our recycling quotas.
The idea behind these efforts is that we can use the old batteries of today as a “mine” for the batteries of tomorrow. In the future we will cover part of the need for raw materials for new battery systems with by means of recycling.
Professional waste disposal
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, packaging materials, catalytic converters, coolant and brake fluids, as well as plastics, rubber parts, pyrotechnical used parts, and much more. In 2020, a total of 29,923 tons of old parts and materials were collected in Germany and recycled. Around 1,475 tons of coolant and 694 tons of brake fluid, as well as 9,619 tons of old tires and 2,463 tons of car glass, were recycled.
How we assess the effectiveness of our management approach
In our management approach to resource conservation, we are pursuing the aim of increasingly decoupling resource consumption from sales growth. To this end, we have defined the guidelines in our vehicle specifications and introduced the corresponding measures. The goals and guidelines are being observed within the framework of the Mercedes-Benz development system. Mercedes-Benz is currently cooperating with the development unit and with procurement to optimize the related processes and the data quality.
1 see appendix: Labeling
2 Electricity consumption and range were calculated on the basis of Commission Regulation (EC) No. 692/2008. Electricity consumption and range depend on the vehicle configuration.
3 The actual range is also dependent on individual driving style, road and traffic conditions, outside temperature, use of air conditioning/heating systems etc. and may therefore differ.