Manufacturing high-end electric cars in a CO2-neutral factory is possible. This has been the case for several years at the Audi site in Brussels. The German brand invited us to come and discover the production of the Audi Q8 e-tron and SQ8 e-tron in this new generation factory.
Audi Brussels: a CO2 neutral automobile factory
In just a few years, the Brussels site went from manufacturing the Audi A1 with an internal combustion engine to the Q8 e-tron, the brand’s electric behemoth. From the smallest vehicle to the largest. From thermal to electric. Suffice to say that the production lines have completely evolved. Peter D’hoore, spokesperson for the Audi factory in Brussels, told us about this transformation and plunged into the heart of the Brussels machine. The release of the Audi Q8 e-tron from Belgian chains marks the start of a new era for the factory. That of carbon neutrality taken to its peak, with a factory certified for its CO2-neutral automobile production.
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In March 2018, at the start of production of the e-tron, the Brussels site received the certificate of “ CO2 neutral site » issued by the Belgian approval office Vinçotte, the largest Belgian control, inspection and certification company. In summary, 95% of production processes are “ covered using renewable energy “. The others are compensated by “ environmental projects » according to factory management. A large-scale project which makes the Brussels site the first automobile production plant in the high-end segment to ensure CO2 neutral production. According to Peter D’hoore, the Brussels site “ is a sustainable production model ».
How to achieve carbon neutrality?
To obtain this CO2 neutral factory status, Audi did not just green the visible aspects of its production site. The smallest details have been designed to reduce the carbon impact of automobile production. The buildings are notably equipped with photovoltaic panels. A 37,000 m² park was installed on the factory roofs. We took a walk on the roof to see this with our own eyes and we must admit that it is quite impressive. Enough to reduce CO2 emissions by 17,000 tonnes per year (i.e. the annual consumption of 1,500 people). It is also the largest photovoltaic installation in the region according to the management of the factory.
The other aspect on which the Audi teams have worked is that of heat supply. The heating of the offices and the factory comes from renewable energies. Enough to reduce emissions from the Brussels site by 40,000 tonnes per year. These two pillars, photovoltaics and biogas, allow the factory to cover 95% of its energy needs. However, some emissions cannot be avoided. To overcome this, Audi compensates with “ carbon credit projects ”, such as waste recycling. The brand has also implemented a closed circuit system for sustainable use of water resources.
Water: a resource preserved at Audi in Brussels
A circular water cycle is applied to production processes. Concretely, Audi uses “ gray water “. These are waters used several times in the manufacturing process. The project is called “ Re-use » is carried out in collaboration with Hydria, a company capable of treating and purifying wastewater generated during production and returning it to the cycle. Re-use saves 100,000 cubic meters of drinking water per year.
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Volker Germann, chairman of the board of directors of the Audi Brussels factory, specifies that “ The measured use of our drinking water resources plays a central role for us. With the Brussels South wastewater treatment plant, located near our factory, we are integrating innovative technology to save water resources. This underlines our commitment to sustainable business ».
To save the equivalent of 40 Olympic swimming pools, Audi is still trying to reduce its water needs. This valuable resource is unfortunately needed in large quantities for automobile production. This is for example the case when painting. By 2035, the brand plans to go from an average of 3.75 cubic meters of water per car today to 1.75 cubic meters.
A green and automated production site
When you enter this factory, what immediately stands out is the number of automated robots circulating between the assembly lines. Small robots that transport heavy parts completely autonomously, following a very specific route with light signals to indicate their direction. An incessant sweep, sometimes dizzying, but always very silent. The robots are obviously electrified. Another notable fact: the factory is particularly clean. No bad smell, no marks on the ground, everything is square. It must be said that this new version from the factory is recent: the first Q8 e-tron only left the production lines on December 14, 2022.
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Over almost 2 kilometers long, we feel a real complementarity between the factory workers and the robotic machines. They allow workers to concentrate on higher value-added tasks, where the human eye will always be necessary. In particular to identify possible defects at the end of the chain or position complex parts on the Q8 e-tron. Robots are just “ sophisticated tools in the hands of engineers and human workers “. At Audi, car factory workers step in where robots reach their limits, supervising operations, making real-time adjustments and maintaining machines.
A capacity of 50,000 electric vehicles per year
In total, 200,000 electric vehicles have already left the Audi factory in Brussels. In 2022, 50,000 models have been produced. It is clearly not the best performing site in terms of volume, but that is not the desired objective. In the Belgian capital, the manufacturer wants to show its know-how in sustainable production. Brussels is keen on its status as “ innovative factory model ”, while investing in existing factories. The experience acquired by the Belgian teams should enable the German manufacturer to make a major transition in its other factories.
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