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Manufacturers around the world are on a push to become net carbon-zero and, while many are rightly focusing their efforts on decarbonising their product ranges, there are a number of factors that still produce carbon.

Volvo, however, is seeking to address all the carbon-producing elements of its operations. Last month, the Swedish automaker announced it was joining the SteelZero initiative to promote fossil-free steel in its vehicles. 

Auto Futures sat down with Jessica Sandström, Volvo Trucks’ Senior Vice President Global Product Management and Sustainability, to find out more. 

Can you explain why fossil-free steel is important for Volvo Trucks? Is steel production particularly bad for the planet?

Jessica Sandström Volvo Trucks
Volvo Trucks’ Jessica Sandström, Senior Vice President Global Product Management and Sustainability

Volvo Trucks is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. To do this we need to remove emissions in all parts of our business.

We will increase the use of fossil-free materials in our trucks to make them net-zero not only in operation but also when it comes to the materials they are built of.

The steel in an electric truck, excluding batteries, represents almost 40% of the total greenhouse gas emissions emitted when producing the truck.

Can you tell us more about the collaboration with SSAB to manufacture the steel? 

Our collaboration with SSAB started in 2021. Swedish SSAB is the first company to supply fossil-free steel and the collaboration enables us to start to replace the steel currently used in our trucks with fossil-free steel. We are the first truck manufacturer in the industry to do this.

Have you had to make any modifications to the design of your trucks to accommodate the new steel?

No, the steel properties in the fossil-free steel are just as good as in conventionally produced steel.

How soon do you think that fossil-free steel can be used on all parts of your trucks?

Currently, the volumes of fossil-free steel that are available are very limited. Also, there are many different steel qualities in a truck and not all qualities are produced fossil-free today. Starting with the frame rails, which are the backbone of the truck, we will gradually replace more and more of the steel as the availability of fossil-free steel increases. Our goal is that all steel used in our trucks is fossil-free steel. By 2040 Volvo Trucks is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in our entire value chain.

You’re planning to use the fossil-free steel on electric trucks first, do you plan to use it on your ICE trucks, as well?

Yes, we do. Volvo Trucks is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Our goal is that 50% of our sales in 2030 will be electric trucks. However, it’s clear that the combustion engine will continue to play a significant role in our customers’ ability in reducing carbon emissions for many years to come. But the combustion engine will run on fossil-free fuels, such as biogas or renewable hydrogen

You have mentioned using greater circularity in the building of your trucks, which components offer the greatest opportunities for circularity?

Today, around 30% of the materials in a new Volvo truck come from recycled materials. Up to 90% of the truck can be recycled at the end of its life. Our goal is to only use renewable and recycled materials in our trucks. We offer today remanufactured parts, which are old parts remanufactured to the original condition, but with less use of materials and energy than new parts. Our objective is to grow our circularity business by expanding our reman offer of today such as engines and gearboxes. We specifically see great circularity opportunities for the batteries in our electric trucks for reman, refurbish, second life and recycling.

What does the future of truck manufacturing look like in 5-10 years? Will everything be fossil-free and circular or is that too soon or even impossible to achieve?

It’s possible to achieve a truck industry that is climate neutral. The impact of climate change is more and more visible. We must decarbonize the transport industry and we need to do everything that we can to show that it’s possible. The technical solutions to decarbonize transportation exist here and now. Many types of transport can be electrified today; city transport as well as transport between cities. Volvo Trucks has the broadest line-up of electric trucks in the industry, with three truck models in series production already and three more as of this autumn.

The transformation will go faster in some parts of the world than in others. The speed of the transformation will depend on, among other things, the pricing of energy, how quickly the charging infrastructure can be expanded, long-term governmental commitments, i.e. incentives for hauliers to invest in alternative drivelines, and the price of batteries. The availability of green electricity will also have an impact. If a price would be put on emitting carbon dioxide, that would speed up the transformation.

We see great commitment from our customers and their customers to make the shift together with us.

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