As automobile companies focus on the transition to electric vehicle production, some are taking a closer look at how to make the overall manufacturing process more sustainable. While many companies have announced electric vehicle goals, the industry as a whole has yet to address supply chain concerns. One of the major components is steelmaking, which accounts for significant direct emissions from fossil fuels. Volvo is taking the lead by announcing a five-year transition to using fossil-free steel made with hydrogen.
“We are determined to be a climate-neutral company by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement,” said Martin Lundstedt, CEO of Volvo Group. “This means that our vehicles and machines will be emission-free when in operation but also that we will review the materials, like steel, used in our products and will gradually switch to fossil-free alternatives. This is an important step on the road to completely climate-neutral transport.”
To reduce the nearly 35 percent of carbon emissions created by steel and iron production for its traditionally powered cars, Volvo teamed up with SSAB, a Swedish steelmaker. The teamwork between the two Swedish companies is set for success given the country’s easy access to the renewable energies needed to develop clean steel, many of which are plentiful in the northern part of the country. The clean steel process SSAB uses makes zero-emissions hydrogen from water using electricity, rather than fossil fuels.
SSAB’s process is a result of the HYBRIT initiative, a technology developed with iron producer LKAB and energy firm Vattenfall. The process eliminates the use of “coke” – carbon-rich coal – from steelmaking using fossil-free electricity. Coke has a history of producing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, and, until now, has been a huge barrier in the race to cut global emissions. HYBRIT, however, leaves almost no carbon footprint at all. Replacing coking coal with hydrogen could reduce global steelmaking emissions by 90 percent.
“We are now taking a giant leap towards an entirely fossil-free value chain all the way to the end customer,” said Martin Lindqvist, CEO at SSAB. “Together with Volvo Group, we will start work on the development and serial production of fossil-free steel products. We see a new green revolution emerging.”
Volvo expects a new concept car made with this process to hit the market as early as 2026, reducing its cars’ average emissions prior to its 2030 target of making only electric cars. Each process is key to the company’s 2040 climate-neutral goal.
Volvo is not the only manufacturer with such sustainable plans. Mercedes-Benz also recently announced new sustainability goals by 2025. Ford, General Motors, and Ram are also making big sustainability moves. These commitments are a part of many of the companies’ goals to be climate-neutral by 2050. In the process of decarbonizing supply chains, automobile manufacturers will rely heavily on steel manufacturers to make changes as well. Fortunately, five out of six of the world’s top steel producers have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, lighting a path to all sustainably-made automobiles in the coming decades.