LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 9 no 4, September, 2009, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
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Partially Green – The Australian Government’s plan for an eco car for the Australian and export market

Life cycle reduction of greenhouse gases, toxics, and waste: not for Australian cars

Information collated and annotated by Anne Roberts and Elizabeth O’Brien

Europe is a long way ahead of Australia when it comes to green innovation. Maybe it’s because it’s so old, the countries are mostly so small – compared to us – and they haven’t vast spaces left to ruin and fill with rubbish.

There also seems to be an Australian attitude that because the country is so large, we must have more roads – and use a car - because of the greater distances. Never mind that most people live in cities, where public transport, cycling and walking makes more sense but has been willfully neglected, even in the major cities. For longer distances, rail makes more sense than roads. Same story.

“Australia has a high dependency on car travel. It accounts for around 80 per cent of all passenger travel, and it is a highly energy intensive form of transport.” (The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland - September 2008, Submission to Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme: Green Paper.)

In the context of a global economic crisis and global warming, the Australian Federal government has produced a “New Car Plan for a Greener Future”, which includes a Green Car Innovation Fund. Before outlining the government’s proposals, based on its media releases and fact sheet, we present two examples in support of the claim that Europe is far ahead of Australia when it comes to green innovation, specifically in relation to cars.

l. End-of-Life Vehicle Recycling in the European Union From JOM, by N. Kanari, J.-L. Pineau, and S. Shallari, August 2003: [JOM is published monthly by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS)]

Vehicles, essential to society, are continually increasing in use. However, throughout their life cycle vehicles impact the environment in several ways: energy and resource consumption, waste generation during manufacturing and use, and disposal at the end of their useful lives. About 75 percent of end-of- life vehicles, mainly metals, are recyclable in the European Union. The rest (~25%) of the vehicle is considered waste and generally goes to landfill. Environmental legislation of the European Union requires the reduction of this waste to a maximum of 5 percent by 2015.”

The next item reveals the European car industry is having difficulty with the regulations, but accepts the concept of cradle-to-grave responsibility for car manufacturers.We include details of EU manufacturers’ difficulty with regulations in recognition of the “nobody said it was going to be easy” principle.

2. Recycling - a prime example of industry progress from the ACEA European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, (last updated 19/05/2009)Responsible manufacturers take a holistic view when considering opportunities to recycle and recover material at the end of a product’s life. This forms part of a sustainable manufacturing strategy and the car sector has embraced this cradle-to-grave approach. The automotive industry has invested in the development and use of innovative, sustainable materials in vehicle manufacturing. It has cut down on harmful material content and the use of heavy metals: it has increased what can be recovered and recycled at the end of a vehicle’s life and reduced waste to landfill. In partnership with the recycling industry, car makers have also set up national networks in European member states and guided dismantlers in de-pollution and recycling procedures. These now provide consumers with a convenient and cost-free means to return their vehicles. However, the rules governing car recycling have proved complex and inflexible. The End-of-Life Vehicle Directive is a clear test case where better regulation principles, espoused by the High Level CARS 21 group, should be applied. Simplification and harmonisation with other legislation must be the goal.

Recycling is a priority for both the EU and automotive industry. As producers, car makers acknowledge their responsibility to deliver sustainable products from cradle-to-grave and are proud to report major progress towards this goal. Estimates suggest between 2 and 5% of total car CO2 emissions are generated during the recycling phase of a car’s life. Only a very limited amount of waste to landfill still comes from the automotive sector, although around 8 million vehicles reach the end of their lives each year. Through a combination of innovation in recycling and recovery technology, material management and information systems that are unique among manufacturing industries, the industry can demonstrate reusability and recovery rates requested by legislation, leading to reduced waste-to-landfill and improved car recyclability. Manufacturers have cut content for the four heavy metals - mercury, cadmium, chromium (VI), and lead. Chromium (VI) and cadmium have been eliminated entirely; remaining mercury amounts - which are due to be phased-out – are already negligible. Lead applications like solder, for which there is no technical alternative, amount to just a few grammes in each vehicle.

End-of-Life Vehicle rules

The End-of-Life Vehicle Directive and Directive on Reusability, Recyclability and Recoverability of motor vehicles set new requirements for vehicle recycling. Today, new vehicles must demonstrate reusability and/or recyclability of at least 85%, and reusability and/or recoverability of at least 95% by weight, if measured against the international standard ISO 22620. Auto makers support the principle of producer responsibility, but also their role in helping consumers recycle end-of-life vehicles. However, recycling remains an issue for which the contributions of all stakeholders should be considered. Product is the industry’s core competence; an integrated approach, working with the recycling industry, legislators, and customers, is the best way to ensure continued progress in vehicle recycling.

A case for simplification

Car manufacturers face a major challenge, balancing goals in recyclability with targets in other areas including CO2 reduction, improved safety and reliability, while making sure vehicles remain affordable for the customer. Based on past experience, car manufacturers stress that the End-of-Life Vehicle Directive is not a positive example of regulation. The auto industry believes it should be used as a test case for better regulation. The current rules are sector-specific, inflexible, partly contradictory, and overlap with other regulations. Regulatory targets that do not generate cost-effective environmental gains must be reviewed. Sector specific material restrictions are also unacceptable. Finally, the industry stresses that product-focused rules should be identical across the EU to maintain the integrity of the single market.

The Green Car Innovation Fund

In comparison to Europe, Australia’s idea of a green car seems to be one which runs on less fuel and - while doing so - emits fewer greenhouse gases. Partially green.

On November 10, 2008, the Innovation Minister the Honourable Kim Carr, and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, jointly issued a press release announcing the Green Car Innovation Fund: “a $6.2 billion plan to make the automotive industry more economically and environmentally sustainable by 2020.”

Imagine how much more sustainable transport would be in Australia if the federal government encouraged investment of $6.2 billion in public transport and long-distance rail freight.

The Green Car Plan will feature an expanded $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund [Fact sheet on the fund] which will provide Australian car companies with the opportunity to receive Government funding to design and sell environmentally friendly cars. The Innovation Fund will see the Australian Government match industry investment in green cars on a $1 dollar to $3 dollar basis over a ten year period from 2009.The fund provides $1.3 billion over ten years, commencing in 2009-2010, to Australian companies, individuals or other entities for projects that enhance the research, development and commercialisation of Australian technologies that significantly reduce fuel consumption and/or greenhouse gas emissions of passenger motor vehicles.

This is another chapter in the Rudd Government’s green investment strategy to transform Australia’s economy into a low-carbon emission, internationally-competitive economy of the future.

This is decisive and strong action to protect the Australian economy during the global financial crisis.

The 13-year New Car Plan for a Greener Future is about manufacturing competitive, low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles in Australia. It will create well-paid, highly-skilled green jobs for the future.

The $7.7 billion automotive industry is critical to Australia’s economic future because it employs over 60 000 Australians, and is critical to national R&D and exports.

The government’s investment strategy is two-fold: to make the Australian economy internationally competitive, through export of “green cars” or “green car” designs, and also low-carbon emitting.

Nothing in there about reducing greenhouse and toxic emissions during the mining, smelting, and manufacturing stages of car production, nor end-of-life recycling and waste reduction, nor about reducing toxic emissions during car-use. Not even a ban on the most obviously replaceable use of lead in cars – wheel weights, tonnes of which fall off cars and enter waterways every year. If reduced fuel use during the car’s life is the only goal, bigger lead acid batteries for solar and electric and hybrid cars are on the horizon, because lead remains the cheapest material for storage batteries.

Car sales are set to rise, so more lead will need to be mined…unless there are incentives for more stringent contaminant standards in lead acid battery manufacturing, and/or for longer-life batteries, and/or incentives which eliminate lead altogether as the preferred (cheapest) battery material. If people are told a car is “green”, they’re more likely to buy it. The LEAD Group calls on Minister Carr to make the “Green Car” Fund totally green.

Even without government funding to the car industry, the number of cars has increased faster than the rate of human population increase in the last 20 years. The use of lead for batteries has gone from 50% to 80% of all lead used. The amount of lead mined in the world increases every year.

Due to lax contaminant standards in vehicle lead-acid battery manufacturing, used batteries cannot currently be 100% recycled into new batteries. So there is at present a need to add newly-mined lead into the battery manufacturing process when the feed source includes used lead acid batteries, because the used lead contains contaminants. Thus the total amount of lead mined in the world increases year by year, mainly to meet the demand for batteries for new cars and cars in service.  The Green Car Fund provides no incentives for batteries to be cradle to cradle sustainable. Australia looks set to remain the biggest lead exporter in the world. But let’s not kid ourselves that we’re going to have truly Green Cars for the Australian or export markets.

This is not leading the world in sustainable transport.

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