Volvo Trucks’ Umeå Factory Enacting Environmental Initiatives

Oct. 14, 2009
he Volvo Trucks cab factory in Umeå, Sweden, will soon be an entirely CO2-neutral factory

The Volvo Trucks cab factory in Umeå, Sweden, will soon be an entirely CO2-neutral factory. This is being achieved by replacing propane with DME and by cutting energy consumption through the use of an ice-cold underground river to cool the production machinery. At the same time, considerable environmental improvements in the paint shop have helped create the world`s cleanest and most energy-efficient paint shop.

In conjunction with the meeting of the European Ministers in Umeå on October 14-16, Volvo Trucks showcased its pro-environmental work at the factory in Umeå. For several years now, the company has been making major investments in improving the efficiency of its energy usage and the goal is to have a carbon dioxide-neutral factory with locally produced energy within a couple of years. Energy consumption has decreased by 30 percent per manufactured cab over the past ten years, at the same time as there has been a record increase in production volumes.

Umeå`s green focus echoes Volvo Trucks` over-riding environmental goals, which among other things means that all the company`s large production plants are to be CO2-neutral by 2010.

"For us, Umeå is a shining example and a symbol of our environmental commitment. The factory has for many years worked very successfully with environmental issues, generated highly innovative solutions and shown in concrete terms that this commitment benefits both the company and the environment," says Lars Mårtensson, environmental director at Volvo Trucks.

Today, 90 percent of the factory`s energy consumption is renewable. The target is 100 percent. Of the 106 GWh of energy that the Umeå factory consumed in 2008, 13 percent still consisted of propane, even though propane consumption has been halved compared with 2006. The propane used for the painting ovens has been replaced with district heating and today propane is the only fossil fuel being used. The district heating system has also replaced oil as a fuel. Today energy is recycled to the tune of 80 GWh per year. Now propane is being replaced by DME produced from biomass. This is taking place in a joint project bringing together Umeå University, Umeå Energi, Ö-vik Energi and Volvo Trucks.

"The DME project is a good example of how research, business and society work smoothly together to find solutions that really work," continues Lars Mårtensson.

Cooling from an icy underground river The most spectacular energy saving is seen in the factory`s cooling system. Close to the Ume River and the Volvo factory there is an underground ice river that maintains a constant cold temperature come summer or winter. The icy water from this river is pumped into the factory`s own system. This water is used in various cooling systems and has replaced many of the cab factory`s refrigeration plants which otherwise used cooling agents such as freon.

The biggest consumer of cooling water is the dehumidification of the air that is fed to the paint-boxes in the paint shop. The first supply of ice-river water reached the factory about a year ago, and its cooling effect corresponds to 3000 kilowatts.

Work on reaching the environmental targets has also prompted energy savings and environmental improvements in the factory`s paint shop. The paint shop has been modernized and production has been streamlined in several stages, thus also cutting the consumption of paint and solvents and slashing emissions to the surrounding air.

In 1988, solvent emissions to the air were about 70 grams per square meter of cab surface. Today emissions are below 10 grams, which is way below the EU`s limit of 55 grams per square meter.