More resource-efficient vehicles
Strategy and concepts
Decoupling resource consumption from growth
Today, the vehicles of the Mercedes-Benz Group consist mainly of materials such as steel, iron, aluminium and plastic. However, natural resources are required for their production. The Group’s goal is to keep precisely this consumption of natural resources as low as possible.
As electric mobility becomes more widespread, the demand for specific raw materials is also changing. Examples are cobalt and lithium, along with nickel, graphite, manganese and copper. The Mercedes-Benz Group takes an in-depth look at these raw materials in the context of comprehensive raw material assessments in order to counter both potential human rights risks and environmental risks. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz Group has a strategy for important raw materials that are sourced both directly and indirectly, which safeguards its requirements for the long term. In the case of critical raw materials, the strategy focuses on intensive research of substitution technologies and ensuring the responsible procurement of raw materials.
The Mercedes-Benz Group’s vision therefore is, as far as possible, to transform its entire value chain into a closed loop. To this end, it wants to return its production waste and used materials to the material cycle, including for example the batteries from electric vehicles, which still contain a considerable quantity of valuable materials. The recycling and reuse of these and many other raw materials is at the focus of the Group’s current strategic activities and will remain so in the future. It is both important and necessary to involve suppliers even more strongly – for example through dialogue and clear objectives. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz Group is involved in various initiatives with the aim, among other things, of reducing the resource consumption of important raw material industries.
In the Mercedes-Benz Group, the areas of vehicle concepts, vehicle development, procurement, production planning and manufacture are primarily responsible for ensuring that resources are used sparingly. Decisions in this topic area are made by the specialist committees responsible for the respective model series, comprised of representatives of the individual shops involved.
Corporate management is always involved in fundamental decision-making regarding design concepts, manufacturing technologies and the utilisation of materials. When making such decisions, it takes multiple factors into account. These include costs, resource-efficient technologies, and the use of alternatives such as secondary materials and renewable raw materials and the potential for industrialisation. In the process, the Group’s management examines the extent to which development results can be transferred to large-scale industrial production, for example, with regard to the use of raw materials.
Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans use approximately 4.7 million t of raw materials per year for the production of their products. Both segments are focusing on further reducing the quantities of raw materials required per vehicle in particular. To this end, they already follow the “Design for Environment” approach during vehicle development: accordingly, the specialist units already consider the composition of all materials to be used and investigate more sustainable alternatives during the concept phase. This applies both to surface materials and to materials which are not visible to customers. Examples in vehicle interiors include sustainably processed leather, fabrics with a high recycled content and innovative materials. For the body panels and body-in-white, Mercedes-Benz uses materials such as recycled aluminium and steel, among others. Going forward, the aim is for the vehicles to be more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly throughout their enitre lifecycle. The cornerstones of the approach are the use of recycled materials as well as lightweight construction techniques and recycling.
Identifying critical raw materials
Several types of raw materials which are needed for the production of electric vehicles are associated with certain risks. In order to better assess how critical the use of a raw material is or can become, Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans, together with partners from industry and science, conducted the “ESSENZ” research project back in 2015. The result is a holistic approach that is still used by engineers in both segments in the early stages of vehicle development. The procedure of the “ESSENZ” method is based on the lifecycle assessment methodology, which allows a systematic analysis of the environmental impacts along the entire lifecycle of a vehicle. However, in the “ESSENZ” approach, along with the geological availability, consideration is also given to socio-economic factors as well as social and societal risks.
Resource conservation along the supply chain
The supply chain plays an important role in efforts to conserve resources. The Mercedes-Benz Group wants to decouple resource consumption from economic growth. To achieve this goal, it is relying on the support of its suppliers. It wants to continuously increase the use of secondary and renewable materials in its vehicles.
Against this background, Mercedes-Benz AG already carried out a risk analysis in 2018. Steel, aluminium and plastics have been identified as particularly important materials in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. We need large volumes of these materials for the production of our vehicles, and their extraction and processing also consume large amounts of energy and resources. In 2020, Mercedes-Benz AG defined secondary material targets for these resources for Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans and anchored these in the requirements for all contract awards.
With its Responsible Sourcing Standards, the Mercedes-Benz Group has also incorporated other environmental requirements into its supplier agreements, including stipulations relating to compliance with environmental due diligence obligations and the use of resource-efficient production methods.
Secondary materials and renewable raw materials
The closing of material cycles and the use of renewable raw materials are key measures for the responsible utilisation of resources. In order to achieve these goals, the Mercedes-Benz Group uses resource-efficient technologies and production processes. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz Group is increasingly using secondary materials such as recycled materials in its vehicles, along with renewable raw materials.
The Mercedes-Benz Group has set itself the target of increasing the use of secondary raw materials for the passenger car fleet to an average of 40% by 2030. In addition, since 2005 it has already been providing transparency concerning those products in which secondary raw materials are used. For this purpose, publicly viewable environmental certificates are created for the "360° Environmental Check”. The test reports show, among other things, which components are made partly from resource-saving materials.
Use of secondary raw materials
Today, numerous series-production vehicles from Mercedes-Benz Cars and Mercedes-Benz Vans already contain recycled materials such as aluminium. This light alloy can be recycled without any loss of quality, while the recycling process uses only about 5% of the energy that would be needed to produce the aluminium from scratch. In its efforts to keep increasing the recycled content, Mercedes-Benz AG is working with its suppliers to develop aluminium alloys with a high end-of-life scrap potential, for example from old vehicles or packaging, which at the same time meet the high expectations in terms of quality, safety and durability.
For the vehicle interior, the Mercedes-Benz Group offers various leather-free trim and upholstery options. These include high-quality man-made leather and a microfibre weave. The latter is used for components such as seat covers, roof liners or pillar claddings, and is made up of around 50% recycled material. The recycled content is to be steadily increased in the future. In addition, Mercedes-Benz offers various interior upholstery fabrics produced from up to 100% recycled PET bottles. As part of its sustainable business strategy, the Mercedes-Benz Group also relies on the use of natural fibres and textiles to replace conventional plastics with renewable raw materials.
Another example of the possible use of secondary raw materials is SUSTAINEER, a technology platform based on the eSprinter: its underbody panelling is made of recycled polypropylene, used tyres and the filler UBQ™. Mercedes-Benz Vans uses natural straw panels for the partition wall between the cab and load compartment. They are recyclable, biodegradable, formaldehyde-free and can be given a waterproof coating. All wooden elements are FSC®-certified; in other words, the wood comes from sustainably managed forests.
In the EQS, components with a total weight of over 80 kg are made partly from resource-saving materials. For example, the load compartment recess for the EQS is manufactured in an innovative injection moulding process and includes 60% recycled content. In addition, the thermoplastic material is easy to recycle, which conserves resources. In the upcoming E-Class, it is planned to make the load compartment well out of recycled material to 80%. The floor coverings in the EQS use a nylon yarn made from recycled carpets and recycled fishing nets. In the EQE a total of 184 components, as well as small parts such as press studs, plastic nuts and line fasteners, representing a total weight of 78.3 kilos, can currently be made partly from resource-saving materials.
As part of a pilot series, both the EQE and EQS will be equipped with cable ducts containing the plastic-substitute material UBQ™. The UBQ™ material is obtained from mixed household waste, which was previously difficult to recycle and was therefore often incinerated or ended up as landfill. Food scraps and mixed plastics are among the materials used to make UBQ™. Additional applications of this new material for the production of underbody panels, wheel arch linings and engine compartment covers are being tested.
The Mercedes-Benz Group also relies on further innovative recycling processes and cooperations with partners to close the recycling loops. One example is chemical recycling: the company Pyrum Innovations AG first produces a pyrolysis oil from old tyres, which is then combined with biomethane from agricultural waste by the chemical company BASF. Using the two raw materials, the mass balance approach is used to create a recycled plastic, which for the first time has the same properties as new plastic made from fossil raw materials and is therefore suitable for technically demanding and safety-relevant Mercedes-Benz vehicle components. The approach is examined and independently certified according to “REDCert2" and “ISCC PLUS”. Bow door handles were the first components to be fitted as standard in the S-Class and EQE in the reporting year. Upcoming models such as the EQE SUV will feature bow door handles made of this innovative plastic. In future, the use of the more sustainable recycled material is to be successively increased, and chemical recycling will also be used for other plastic components in the vehicle.
As far as new Mercedes-Benz passenger cars are concerned, the Group already defines a minimum proportion of recycled content for each component in its requirement specifications. This share varies depending on the vehicle’s model and series.
To further promote the use of recycled materials, the Mercedes-Benz Group encourages dialogue between its experts and component and recycled material suppliers: before any contract is awarded, and during the joint design of components, suppliers of the Mercedes-Benz Group must present newly developed recycled materials and determine whether it is possible to switch components to the use of recycled content. Technical issues can be directly discussed.
Use of renewable raw materials
The Mercedes-Benz Group can also reap many benefits from the use of renewable raw materials: By using them, it is possible to reduce the weight of components. Moreover, their CO2 balance is almost neutral when their energy is recovered, because the CO2 released is only as much as was absorbed by the plant during its growth. Last but not least, renewable raw materials help to reduce the consumption of fossil resources. The Mercedes-Benz Group uses a wide range of renewable raw materials such as hemp, kenaf, wool, paper and natural rubber.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class shows how many components can be made partly from renewable materials: for the interior, a microsandwich material was developed that is reinforced with natural fibres in many components. It is used in the map pockets in the door trims, in the tensioning part of seat backrests and for the rear shelf. The material weighs 40% less than a comparable conventional component. The lower weight leads to a decreased need for primary energy along the vehicle’s path from production to use and finally to the end-of-life phase. Moreover, this material, which is made of natural fibres, is very break-resistant and thus contributes to vehicle safety.
The Mercedes-Benz Group attaches great importance to a more environmentally compatible processing of materials, such as leather. In the reporting year it tightened up its requirements for leather suppliers: starting in 2023, the Group hopes to shift gradually to using only sustainably produced and processed leather in all model series. The criteria range from animal husbandry to the tanning process. For example, Mercedes-Benz prescribes compliance with various animal welfare criteria. The Group requires its suppliers to comply with the Animal Welfare Committee's "5 Freedoms Of Animal Welfare” for animal husbandry, for example. In addition, in a less environmentally damaging tanning process, only vegetable or other alternative tanning agents which are completely free of chromium may be used in the future – for example dried coffee bean husks, chestnuts or extracts from other renewable raw materials. Furthermore, the leather may only be processed in tanneries that are certified according to the Gold Standard of the “Leather Working Group”. This includes important environmental aspects such as reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals in the tanning process.
In addition, the Mercedes-Benz Group works together with suppliers to continually improve the environmental compatibility of leather products. Partners must, for example, show a lifecycle assessment for the full value chain. In this way, targeted measures can be taken to reduce the ecological footprint of the leather.
The Mercedes-Benz Group emphatically opposes any form of illegal deforestation. It requires its suppliers not to contribute to or benefit from illegal deforestation in the course of their own business activities. Moreover, it contractually obligates its suppliers to take due diligence measures to support the protection of natural forests in the upstream supply chain.
At the same time, the Mercedes-Benz Group is researching animal-free, resource-conserving alternatives to genuine leather. In the development and selection of these materials, it pays attention to the highest possible recycled content or the use of renewable raw materials instead of crude oil-based raw materials. In the Mercedes-Benz “VISION EQXX” technology platform, various alternatives to real leather have already been presented – including a material made from powdered cactus fibres and a leather alternative made from mushroom mycelium, the underground root-like structure of fungi.
Batteries are a key component of electric mobility. At the Mercedes-Benz Group, experts from various disciplines are working on all aspects of battery technology – from basic research to production maturity. The Mercedes-Benz Group is pursuing two goals in this respect: on the one hand, it wants to keep reducing the use of critical materials such as cobalt in its batteries. Secondly, it intends to source battery cells exclusively with raw materials from mines that are audited in accordance with the “Standard for Responsible Mining” of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
The Mercedes-Benz Group has been investing in resource-efficient technologies and manufacturing processes for batteries for many years and is continuously working on optimising the present lithium-ion battery. To drive the development of present and future battery technologies, it is working with partners to increase the energy density of lithium-ion batteries, for example. Anodes with a high silicon content, for instance, and solutions in combination with solid-state technology are being tested.
In the middle of the reporting year, Mercedes-Benz AG also entered into an important strategic partnership with the start-up Rock Tech Lithium Inc. in order to secure the lithium supply for the all-electric future. The aim is to secure the raw materials for battery production in the course of strategic direct procurement. The partnership enables Mercedes-Benz AG to supply its battery partners with high-quality lithium hydroxide to increase its production of all-electric vehicles. Under this agreement, Rock Tech has pledged to supply Mercedes-Benz AG and its battery partners with an average of 10,000 t of lithium hydroxide per year. The cooperation will start in 2026 with a qualification phase.
Intelligent lightweight construction can reduce the weight of a vehicle. To guarantee the high safety and comfort standards at the same time, it is important to choose the right materials. Component design and manufacturing technology also play an important role here. The highest share of the total weight of a conventionally powered passenger car is accounted for by the bodyshell, at 35%. This is followed by the suspension at 25%, the comfort and safety features at 20% and the engine and transmission, likewise at 20%. Thus the most effective approach is to focus on the vehicle’s bodyshell.
Aluminium is light, strong and has other positive properties. For the bodyshell, the Mercedes-Benz Group is increasingly using aluminium alloys for exposed automotive panelling (bonnet, wing, roof, boot lid) and reinforcement components (inner part of the bonnet, roof reinforcements).
Involvement in raw material initiatives
Raw materials initiatives serve as important platforms to drive responsible, more environmentally and climate-friendly procurement of raw materials. At the Mercedes-Benz Group, the focus is on aluminium and steel.
Aluminium Stewardship Initiative: The Mercedes-Benz Group joined the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) in 2018. In doing so, it is supporting the introduction and dissemination of an independent certification system for the entire aluminium value chain that combines ecological and social aspects. As a participant in the ASI's Standards Committee, in the reporting year, the Group contributed to the further development of the initiative's “Performance Standard” and “Chain of Custody Standard”.
These standards play an important role for the Group, both as awarding criteria in aluminium procurement and for the optimisation of its own production: suppliers to the Mercedes-Benz Group’s European foundries and extrusion plants now only receive awardings on condition that the primary aluminium used has passed through ASI-certified production stages from the mine to the rolling mill. The “Performance Standard”, for example, is applied in the press plants of the Group’s own production facilities: in 2022 all five European press plants, at which parts such as bonnets are stamped, were successfully certified according to the ASI “Performance Standard”. Among other things, the environmental design of their aluminium products and their efforts in scrap segregation were audited for this purpose.
Responsible Steel Initiative: The Mercedes-Benz Group has been a member of the Responsible Steel Initiative since 2018, because steel is the material that is proportionally most used in cars and represents the world’s largest raw materials industry. The Responsible Steel Initiative has developed a uniform certification scheme which includes requirements for the responsible use of resources and addresses the greenhouse gas emissions of the steel industry. The requirements for the certification scheme were drawn up with the involvement of various stakeholders, including the Mercedes-Benz Group. In this regard, the perspective of the end customers has been given special consideration. Since 2022, product-specific certification has been possible, as well as plant certification. For this purpose, corresponding requirements have been developed in the areas of “CO2” and “Responsible Sourcing”.
The circular economy
The overriding goal of the circular economy is to preserve the value of products, components and materials for as long as possible. The Mercedes-Benz Group too is increasingly depending on measures that promote the circular economy. In doing so, it follows the waste hierarchy: the top goal is to avoid waste. To achieve this, the Mercedes-Benz Group is working on extending the service life of all vehicle components – for example, by using particularly durable materials. It also uses resources efficiently and reduces the use of raw materials with limited availability. Only then does it move down the hierarchy of waste to measures for reusing various components and parts and for recovering materials by means of recycling.
Reuse – new life for used parts
At the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Centre (MB GTC), was founded in 1996, more than 5000 vehicles are dismantled each year. The aim is to remove as many components as possible in order to sell them as used replacement parts.
Initially, in-house experts check all removed parts for their quality. The parts are offered for sale with the same warranty as new parts only if they meet the standards of MB GTC. According to the waste pyramid, reuse is the highest level of the circular economy, so that MB GTC makes a valuable contribution to sustainability and resource conservation.
Components that do not meet MB GTC’s requirements go on to be further reprocessed. This recycling process means that valuable raw materials can be recovered and kept in circulation – for example copper from vehicle wiring, gold from the circuit boards of control units or platinum from catalytic converters.
Remanufacturing – value retention for prolonged life
In the remanufacturing process, the Mercedes-Benz Group reconditions used vehicle parts in order to reuse them. In this process, Mercedes-Benz genuine parts for passenger cars and vans are reconditioned so that they correspond to a new part in terms of function, safety and quality. The vehicle parts are only recycled when they can no longer be reused in a vehicle.
Remanufacturing enables avoiding waste, conserving raw materials and reducing energy consumption. A calculation certified by TÜV SÜD shows that the remanufacturing of a NAG2 transmission saves about 215 kg of CO2 and 3074 MJ (854 kWh) of energy compared to a new unit.
Re-utilisation of high-voltage batteries
Lithium-ion batteries contain valuable raw materials such as lithium or cobalt. For this reason, the Mercedes-Benz Group aims to reuse batteries in vehicles before recycling them, to conserve resources as much as possible.
To this end, the Group is successively expanding its portfolio of solutions for the recycling and reuse of defective batteries to include newer generations. The batteries are reconditioned according to the Group’s high quality standards. Their function and quality are tested in detail – based on the specifications for series production. Batteries that are no longer suitable for reuse in vehicles – for example due to reduced capacity – can be reused in a stationary energy bank. In this way, the Group improves the environmental balance of electric vehicles – and at the same time contributes to a sustainable energy economy.
Mercedes-Benz Energy GmbH, based in Kamenz, Germany, is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz AG and is responsible for the development of innovative energy storage solutions like this. These use the automotive battery technology employed in the electric and hybrid vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and smart. By building stationary energy banks, Mercedes-Benz Energy GmbH, in cooperation with partners from the energy industry, is bringing electric car batteries from the car to the grid, so to speak. The spectrum of large-scale energy bank applications by Mercedes-Benz Energy ranges from peak demand compensation and “black starting” – power plant ramp-up independent of the electricity grid – to an uninterruptible power supply. One of the key areas of focus is the procurement and operation of second-life batteries, battery modules and battery management components, along with specification services for energy storage units.
Recycling – keeping the end in mind from the start
When developing products, the Mercedes-Benz Group keeps the circular economy in mind from the start and draws up a recycling concept for each new model series. For this, it analyses all components and materials and examines the extent to which they are suitable for the various stages of the recycling process. All Mercedes-Benz passenger car models and light commercial vehicles (Vehicle classification N1) have a materials recycling rate of 85% according to ISO 22628. In addition, they are in compliance with the European End-of-Life Vehicles Directive 2000/53/EC. This stipulates that cars and vans with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3.5 t must be 95% recoverable.
Mercedes-Benz recycles drive batteries
Once it is no longer possible to recondition or reuse a battery, it is recycled in order to recover valuable raw materials. Today, the Mercedes-Benz Group is already in a position to go far beyond merely fulfilling the recycling quotas for drive batteries prescribed by battery legislation. The battery housings, the cables and the busbars can be recycled without any difficulty. Recycling the battery modules, which contain most of the valuable materials, is somewhat more complicated. The processes already exist, but they still need to be further developed so that the valuable raw materials can be recovered in as pure a state as possible.
The basic goal is to increase recycling rates even further. The vision: today’s old batteries are the mines for tomorrow’s batteries. To achieve this, the Mercedes-Benz Group is involved in researching and developing new recycling technologies and their establishment on the market. Together with specialised partners, it works to further optimise the recycling process and participates in funding and research projects.
The volume of batteries to be recycled will gradually increase as the market penetration of electric cars continues. In view of the lifecycle of electric vehicles, the Group expects significant amount of recyclable material to become available in the 2030s. To create capacities for this, Mercedes-Benz AG is building its own CO2-neutral on the balance sheet pilot plant for the recycling of lithium-ion battery systems at its Kuppenheim location. This is an important part of the global Mercedes-Benz battery recycling strategy. For this purpose, the Group has founded LICULAR GmbH as a wholly-owned subsidiary. The Kuppenheim facility is being built in two stages: initially, the plan is for a facility for mechanical dismantling to be built by 2023. In a second step – subject to regulatory developments – special plants for the hydrometallurgical processing of the battery materials will go into operation. This process, for which promising approval discussions have already been held with the public sector, makes recovery rates of more than 96% possible. Following this example, Mercedes-Benz AG is planning to set up a closed-loop recycling system for batteries in China and the USA together with partners.
Effectiveness and results
Effectiveness of the management approach
In its management approach to resource conservation, the Mercedes-Benz Group aims to increasingly decouple resource consumption from sales growth. To this end, the Group has defined certain requirements in the vehicle requirement specifications and is introducing corresponding measures. The goals and specifications are monitored within the framework of the "Mercedes-Benz development system”.
In order to assess the resource efficiency of its vehicles, the Mercedes-Benz Group considers, among other things, the medium and long-term availability of raw materials, social acceptance, and social and environmental impacts and risks. In development, the Group also uses material balances to evaluate and compare different vehicles, components and technologies.
As part of the “MeRSy” workshop disposal system, workshop waste – dismantled vehicle parts, fluids and replacement parts packaging – generated during vehicle servicing or repair is collected and recycled. In the reporting year, a total of 24,600 t of dismantled vehicle parts, 2,800 t of fluids and 5,000 t of packaging were collected in Germany and sent for recycling.
2. Preparation for reuse
4. Other recovery, especially incineration for the generation of energy and use as a filling material