Material loops that leave no scope for waste are an important factor for Audi in doing business sustainably. The goal is to have a circular economy for the development, production and marketing of products. This calls for ensuring that the raw materials used throughout a vehicle’s life cycle flow back into the production process. Recycling plays an important role in the circular economy by making it possible to reuse waste products as secondary raw materials. The overall ecological footprint of the vehicles – as measured in their life cycle assessments – provide the basis for evaluating material cycles.
While the public generally rates cars mainly in terms of their CO₂ emissions through the exhaust, Audi analyzes the environmental impact of its products over an entire life cycle. The big picture that is obtained in this way is known as the “cradle-to-grave” view.
The scope of the life cycle assessment begins with extraction of the raw materials and production of the components, then extends to the vehicles’ use phase and, finally, to the end of the vehicle’s life. The results of the life cycle assessment are influenced to a great degree by the raw materials used. Light metals such as aluminum and magnesium, for example, require more energy to produce than steel, so they have a bigger impact in terms of producing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the end of the vehicle life cycle, the energy used for recycling is factored into the life cycle assessment. Recycling is an important step at the end of a vehicle’s life and serves to recover recyclable materials so that they can be used again in vehicles.
Material loops constitute an important factor in sustainable business operations for Audi. The goal is to have a circular economy as a basic principle for the development, production and marketing of products. Audi is already committed to recycling aluminum, reusing used parts and Audi replacement parts, as well as to adopting new concepts for the further use and recycling of used traction batteries.
Aluminum is a very attractive lightweight material in car manufacturing. It is around two thirds lighter than steel and can be used in many areas of the vehicle such as bodywork, suspension and assemblies. The achieved lightweight construction potential brings with it major knock-on effects – the brake system, tank or even engine can be more compact. The lower fuel consumption resulting from this downsizing has a major impact: 100 kilograms less weight translates into around 10 grams CO2 less per kilometer for vehicles with a combustion engine.
Audi is, however, also focusing on further optimizing the complete chain from raw material extraction through to recycling the aluminum. To gain a better understanding of this chain, the company joined the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) in 2013. The ASI, a nonprofit initiative involving leading manufacturers and customers of the aluminum industry, aims to develop a global standard for sustainable aluminum in 2017, which defines environmental and social criteria along the entire value chain.
Even today, automakers are producing many new aluminum components for major assemblies from secondary aluminum, i.e. from used aluminum components. This principle will also be extended to other areas in the future. Aluminum waste, which is produced when cutting the blanks, has been collected for many years in the Audi press shops. Contractual collaboration with a recycling partner due to start in 2017 should ensure that new aluminum sheets are actually produced from this waste.
For several decades, customers have been able to order Audi replacement parts from their Audi dealer for vehicle maintenance. This involves handing in the part that needs repairing and getting in return an Audi genuine replacement part. This offer is an alternative to buying new genuine parts for older Audi models in particular. The aim is to offer customers industrially reconditioned parts with Audi genuine part quality. The offer includes technical components such as engines, steering gears and transmissions, as well as electronic components such as radio/navigation systems and instrument clusters.
The electric mobility of the future calls for a solution for used traction batteries. Even after being used in the vehicle, Audi batteries still retain the bulk of their capacity, making them a compelling proposition for further use. Together with the Volkswagen Group, the company is working on using them as stationary energy storage devices – such as for the new quick-charge stations for e-tron models or as buffers for renewable energies such as wind and solar energy. Only then are they recycled so that new batteries can once again be produced from the raw materials obtained.