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This week we’re reading Greenpeace East Asia’s 2023 Automobile Environmental Guide, which evaluates the world’s biggest automakers on their decarbonization efforts. 

The report looks at the big picture of decarbonizing the auto industry, including the pace and ambition of specific automakers in their transition to EVs. But they also looked deeply at decarbonization of steel and other materials in the auto supply chain, with some interesting findings.

Greenpeace noted up front that just cleaning up tailpipe emissions isn’t enough to address the scale of the problem:

“Automakers have neglected the critical role that supply chains and materials play in decarbonisation. The automakers’ decarbonisation strategies tend to center around curbing tailpipe emissions by producing and selling more EVs. Industry-wide, there is insufficient emphasis placed on emissions that originate from the supply chain, materials, and production, such as the energy consumed in manufacturing plants and upstream emissions from steel procurement. Ultimately, omitting to include lifecycle energy consumption for ZEVs could lead to unchecked emissions.”

They also looked at what automakers are doing to decarbonize their steel supply chains:

“BMW, General Motors, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz are the best performing carmakers (on steel decarbonization) and have issued pledges to switch a portion of their steel consumption to low-carbon steel. Their commitments to steel decarbonisation are reinforced by a series of partnership projects with low-carbon producers. Ford and General Motors are among the few carmakers with the modest low-carbon steel procurement target of minimum 10% low-carbon steel, and other carmakers should follow suit.

Stellantis and Hyundai-Kia’s performance in steel decarbonisation is mixed. Stellantis has targeted to meet 25% of its steel consumption with low-carbon steel by 2025 – one of the most ambitious short-term timelines for steel decarbonisation among the top 15 carmakers. Hyundai-Kia is recognised for its steel consumption volume disclosure and its quantification of the use of secondary metals. Hyundai-Kia’s partnership with POSCO to produce low-carbon steel through direct reduced iron (DRI) process with green hydrogen marks the carmaker as the forerunner of steel decarbonisation in East Asia, although Hyundai-Kia has not disclosed any information about the supply timeline and volume.”

Unfortunately, Hyundai-Kia’s partnership with POSCO is also problematic due to the latters plans to reline several outdated and polluting blast furnaces, so a deeper commitment from the company is needed here.

The report also looked at efforts by automakers to improve recycling of materials:

“Disappointingly, there has been miniscule improvement in carmakers’ resource use efficiency targets in the past year. Nissan is the only carmaker with tangible targets for reducing its raw materials consumption. Nissan aims for materials that are not made from newly mined resources to account for 70% of material use in each vehicle by 2050. As of 2023, General Motors uses secondary or recycled steel from Nucor Corp. and US Steel, albeit with no clear scale of supply…

All carmakers except Changan, Great Wall, and SAIC have demonstrated some level of initiative or effort in investing in various solutions for the reuse and/or recycling of decommissioned EV batteries. Most carmakers now have various recycling schemes in place to extract critical minerals and other metals from EV batteries, but the sector’s reuse solutions are generally inadequate. Mercedes-Benz, Renault, and Toyota have the strongest performance in this category as their initiatives combine a focus on the reuse of EV batteries for energy storage purposes with an explicit priority of reuse over recycling and, most importantly, an aim to reach a large scale of energy storage. All three are building energy storage systems with a capacity upwards of 80 megawatt-hours (MWh). Volkswagen’s target to recycle 3,600 EV batteries per year in the scheme’s pilot stage is also noteworthy.”

Check out the full report from Greenpeace East Asia for more on how automakers are decarbonizing their supply chains.