The Need for Full Zero-Emission Manufacturing

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The need for full zero-emission manufacturing
Two publications were released last week which highlight the challenges and disruptions facing the manufacturing sector.

Special Report – Global Warming of 1.5C

The consequences of 1.5C of anthropogenic – “human-made” – global warming will have graver consequences than previously anticipated and is likely to be the target limit, replacing the 2C limit stated in the Paris agreement. Such a limit must be achieved, the report argues, to avoid disastrous impacts such as extreme weather events, risking a wide range of systems (warm water corals, artic regions, coastal flooding, fisheries and lower crop yields to name a few).

However, to achieve this goal, the practicality is that CO2 emissions have to be brought down to net-zero by 2050 or better 2040, which requires a massive shift in the way we generate energy for transport, industry and food production. If we take the transport system alone, the scale of the task is evident. Europe annually manufactures 16.9M vehicles, of which only 1.4% are currently either battery electric or plug-in hybrids. To shift this sector to complete zero emissions, i.e. battery electric or fuel cell battery electric, the whole industry sector has to be transformed. This is not only a threat or challenge but is also a unique opportunity for new companies to enter the market supplying traction batteries, motors, inverters or the machines and systems that build them.

This won’t be an easy task given that currently 2.5M people work in the sector, annually exporting a value of 138.6 Million Euros. Governments have acknowledged this and support through R&D programs aids the transitions, but additionally it also requires skills development and new training programs.


Thailand ban foreign plastic waste from 2021

Another news item has produced much less attention than the Special Report by IPCC. Thailand has announced to ban foreign plastic waste from 2021 and will follow China, who has practically stopped buying paper and plastic waste from the beginning of this year.Both have severe consequences for the global waste streams. Common practice has been that empty shipping containers have been sent back to South East Asia filled with Europe’s waste for further treatment. At the end of 2017, 40% of waste was incinerated, 30% went a landfill and 30% was recycled – of which 40% was exported to outside the EU. In total, out of the 8.4M collected as recycling in 2016, this has distorted our view on increased recycling rates and shaded our view on the underlying problem of waste generation.

As Thailand’s announcement indicates that the South Asian countries are not prepared to continue processing our waste, it will raise pressing questions on how we are going to deal with the waste we produce in Europe. It highlights that we are not yet equipped with answering those questions and it will force us to think about avoiding plastics, reducing waste in general and to think more intensely about how we are going to manage our product flows in the future.


Planning for sustainable manufacturing

Both announcements together indicate that we should take the opportunity to develop our manufacturing operations more completely, with a view to turn waste into opportunities by processing and reusing or recycling them later. Our focus has been on ramping up production of batteries and electric motors to tackle emission reductions from the transport sector, a market expected to be grow exponentially. We now have the unique opportunity to develop, in parallel, the required systems to collect, reuse, process or recycle these valuable components. Both, production upscaling and end-of-product life development is vital to respond to both challenges above. The value streams open up a huge market for European companies. The window of opportunity is there, but we have to exploit it now before it closes!

Sources: Eurostat, IPCC, ACEA


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Written by:

Axel Bindel


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