Sustainability is undoubtedly the critical issue of our time.
With the global population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the United Nations estimates that the equivalent of almost three planets would be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain that many modern lifestyles.
While consumption and production are critical to the global economy, current volumes and unsustainable practices are placing a massive strain on the environment and its resources, leading to some already catastrophic impacts.
For instance, Deloitte reports that between 2000 and 2020, CO2 emissions released by global fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes rose by roughly 35%, to 34.07 billion metric tons. Given the need to address climate change and meet net-zero targets, this trend must be reversed.
Thankfully, many manufacturers are now recognizing the strong business case behind pursuing more sustainable practices. Indeed, operating in a sustainable manner can improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, lower costs, increase operational efficiency, enhance brand reputation, boost recruitment and staff retention practices, provide competitive advantages, futureproof for regulatory constraints and opportunities, and unlock access to government grants and funding.
Of course, sustainability is not a case of one-size-fits-all. Every manufacturer is different, and each will have to make sustainable changes that match unique criteria. Yet this diversity is resulting in an abundance of commendable innovations.
What follows are some leading global manufacturing companies that are taking proactive and progressive approaches toward sustainability.
Canadian Pacific (CP) is one firm leading the sustainability charge in the rail arena, having introduced a hydrogen locomotive program back in December 2020.
Many railway operators globally use diesel-powered locomotives at present, representing the industry’s most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Recognizing this, CP has introduced a host of sustainability initiatives that have been successful in improving its fuel efficiency by more than 40% in the past three decades. Should the hydrogen program prove to be successful, it will help the firm take a further leap toward sustainable practices and serve to revolutionize energy consumption for the industry as a whole.
CP is in the process of retrofitting a line-haul locomotive with hydrogen fuel cells and battery technology to power the locomotive’s electric traction motors. The company will then conduct rail service trials and qualification testing to evaluate the technology’s readiness for real world use.
To accelerate the program, the company also recently received a CA$15 million (US$12.1 million) grant from Emissions Reduction Alberta to increase the number of hydrogen locomotive conversions from one to three, as well as developing more hydrogen production and fueling facilities at CP’s rail yards in Calgary and Edmonton.
The former will comprise an electrolysis plant that will produce hydrogen from water, this process powered by solar panels at CP’s headquarters campus to keep emissions at zero. The latter, meanwhile, will see a small-scale steam methane reformation system being used to generate hydrogen while tapping into Alberta’s abundant natural gas resources.
RIO TINTO, POSCO, METSO OUTOTEC
Over in the mining and metals sector, organizations are also tapping into the potential of hydrogen to unlock similarly transformative solutions.
Rio Tinto, the world’s third largest mining company, has partnered with POSCO, the largest steel producer in South Korea, for the exploration and development of technologies capable of contributing to a low-carbon emission steel value-chain.
Both firms have outlined ambitions to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, the integration of Rio Tinto’s iron ore processing technology and POSCO’s steelmaking technology set to be pivotal in helping them to each reach such their intended sustainability targets.
In addition, Finnish metals specialist Metso Outotec is equally championing sustainability in the sector thanks to its unique Circored process, this involving the use of hydrogen to decarbonize the production of steel.
The flexible Circored process produces highly metalized direct reduced iron or hot briquetted iron which is then in turn used directly as a feed material in electric arc furnaces for carbon-free steelmaking.
Not only does this not require any fossil fuels, but it also helps Metso Outotec to minimize its costs by eliminating the need for energy-intensive pelletizing.
PACCAR, DAIMLER TRUCKS NORTH AMERICA, VOLVO GROUP
Back in the transportation sector, automotive manufacturers PACCAR, Daimler Trucks North America and Volvo Group recently sealed $127 million of $199 million in U.S. federal funding made available for the development of advanced battery-electric and fuel cell electric truck projects.
According to the International Energy Agency, transport accounts for approximately one fifth of all CO2 emissions, with 74.5% of this contribution stemming from passenger vehicles (45.1%) and road freight vehicles (29.4%).
Known as SuperTruck 3, the federal funding initiative is a five-year dollar-for-dollar investment matching program designed to accelerate the development of pollution reducing electrified medium- and heavy-duty trucks and freight system concepts that will either achieve zero emissions or improve energy efficiency.
PACCAR secured $33 million of the funds to develop 18 class 8 battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks, as well as a megawatt charging station.
Daimler Trucks North America has received $26 million to develop two class 8 fuel cell trucks that have a 600-mile range and 25,000-hour durability–providing similar operational output compared with a diesel vehicle.
And Volvo Group North America will use $18 million in SuperTruck 3 funding to manufacture a 400-mile class 8 battery-electric tractor trailer that will focus on optimizing performance in relation to aerodynamics, tires, braking, automation and route planning. Further, the firm will also develop a megawatt charging station.
This is not the only commitment the manufacturers have made towards sustainable automotive solutions. Equally, Daimler and Volvo previously signed a joint venture to develop fuel cell vehicles during the current decade that would be sold under both brands.
THE MARISURF CONSORTIUM
Pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing might seem like a sector less ripe for sustainability initiatives. However, the MARISURF Consortium is demonstrating that this is equally an area where much progress can be made.
The Consortium, backed by several companies and funded by a grant of 4.8 million euros (or about US$5.4 million) from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program, aims to develop alternatives for petrochemicals in pharma products using marine microorganisms.
It comprises a selection of esteemed academic institutions, end-users and industrial companies, including manufacturers such as Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant VZW, EcTechSystens Srl, Nanoimmunotech and Marlow Foods Ltd.
The goal is to produce marine microorganism-based products for personal care, food and pharmaceutical formulations, with promising progress having been made in the five years since the research project first launched. Given that the consumer industry accounts for more than 70% of demand for all petrochemicals, this is significant.
Indeed, common petrochemical use cases include drug production, soaps, plastics, fertilizers, pesticides, paints, and build materials such as flooring and insulation. However, it is hoped that marine organisms will become a viable, natural replacement, owing to the consortium’s research.
While En+ Group is renowned as the world’s largest producer of low-carbon aluminum, it is also an active player in green energy solutions through several environmentally conscious initiatives.
Many of these are driven by the firm’s New Energy program, focused on expanding clean energy generation and access. This seeks to modernize En+’s power plants through the implementation of new technologies capable of achieving greater hydropower energy efficiency and a reduced environmental impact, without increasing the water volumes passing through its hydropower turbines.
Further, the program aims to reduce En+’s environmental impact in other ways–namely through curbing the emissions of its coal-fired power plants. Initially launched in 2007 in tandem with the company’s plans to conduct the large-scale overhaul and replacement of core equipment at its largest hydropower plants based in Siberia, the project will continue to run until 2046.
Through New Energy, it has also become the first Russian firm and just one of 28 companies globally to achieve a UN recognized Energy Compact–an initiative launched by UN Energy to acknowledge voluntary commitments by countries, businesses, and cities in supporting the Sustainable Development Goals by accelerating the transition to clean energy and improving energy access.
TRAFIGURA GROUP AND NYRSTAR
In Australia, global metals manufacturer Nyrstar and physical commodity trading company Trafigura Group have committed to a joint investment that will see the construction of a commercial scale green hydrogen manufacturing facility in Port Pirie, in partnership with the State Government of South Australia.
Currently the project is in the midst of an AUD$5 million (US$3.65 million) front end engineering design study that is expected to be concluded come the end of 2022, with construction then set to commence in 2023.
In total, the project will cost an estimated AUD$750 million (US$534 million), set to be rolled out in phases. Initially it will produce 20 tons of green hydrogen per day for export in the form of green ammonia, with plans to ramp up to 100 tons per day at full capacity, powered by a 440MW electrolyzer.
The manufacturing facility will become a key backbone of green hydrogen for Port Pirie and the surrounding region, providing significant benefit to local businesses while propelling the decarbonization of transport and industry.
The oxygen created in the hydrogen production process will also be utilized by the Nyrstar Port Pirie smelter. As part of the agreement, Trafigura will source 100% renewable energy to deliver the electricity needed to run the project’s electrolyzer, which will also contribute to decarbonizing the existing smelter’s power supply.
DEMATIC AND ASPIRE FOOD GROUP
Intelligent automation specialist Dematic and Aspire Food Group have partnered on a unique venture, constructing a flagship, state-of-the-art facility that will be used for the purpose of enhancing the production and manufacture of food-grade insect protein.
Anticipated for completion in Q1 2022, the facility will be the world’s first fully automated food-grade insect protein manufacturing site, powered by Dematic’s innovative technology.
Its Unit-Load Automated Storage/Retrieval Systems will be implemented through the 11-story building and use 96,000 totes to breed crickets, ready to be processed for either human or pet consumption.
Industrial IoT sensors, and artificial intelligence will also be deployed to unlock key data and insights that will be used to help optimize the conditions for cricket maturation, breeding and incubation. The project will also mark the inaugural use of such technologies in the enhancement of indoor vertical agriculture with living organisms.
In total, it is estimated that the totes will be able to produce up to 20,000 tons of cricket protein and waste for fertilizer and soil supplements annually.
HONDA AND KUEHNE+NAGEL
In China, logistics specialist Kuehne+Nagel and Honda have worked together to cut 16,000 tons of CO2 out of the supply chain of the automotive manufacturer through an ambitious road-to-rail project, reducing the regional division’s carbon emissions by as much as 70%.
Developed through KN Sincero–a joint venture between Kuehne+Nagel and Chinese logistics specialist Sincero–the initiative has seen Honda China move significant portions of its domestic long-haul trucking operations to train lines.
Tapping into regional hubs to optimize the performance of its supply chain, the manufacturer has unlocked several benefits. It has drastically reduced supply chain efficiencies and dramatically enhanced productive reliability, the project also delivering a range of value-added services spanning sorting, scanning, repackaging, GPS track and trace, and recyclable container management.
As a key partner, the project aligns with Kuehne+Nagel’s Net Zero Carbon initiative that was launched in 2019, geared toward not only lowering its own footprint but equally those of other organizations. Indeed, the firm resultantly achieved carbon neutrality globally in 2020, further turning attentions to supporting its partners thereafter through initiatives such as these.