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Belgian lorry plant achieves zero CO2 emissions



Lorry maker Volvo Trucks teamed up with energy supplier Electrabel to make its Europa plant in Ghent, Belgium the first in the world to operate with no net carbon dioxide emissions.

Volvo Truck’s Ghent site produces 40 000 units a year, making it the company’s largest lorry plant. Traditional production processes and activities directly and indirectly generated more than 14 000 tonnes of CO2 annually – equivalent to 7 500 households. To address this, Volvo initiated a project to make the plant carbon neutral with energy supplier Electrabel. The two companies worked closely to obtain electricity and heating without producing CO2, while also cutting energy use. The joint investment was some €10 million.

“It was not an easy undertaking, but we were prepared to try different alternatives to achieve our goal,” says Volvo Truck CEO Leif Johansson. The partners decided that to cut the emission levels of the plant, it was essential that the electricity and heating needed were entirely produced without generating CO2.

Electrabel proposed a combination of energy types to meet the target:

  • Green electricity sourced from the grid and produced onsite through a contract with AlpEnergie – this guaranteed renewably-sourced energy from hydroelectric plants;
  • A 5-MW wood-burning heater to meet basic plant needs, backed up by the existing heating system converted into an oil-based bio-heater; and
  • Three 2-MW windmills onsite to provide 14 GWh of electricity a year, complemented by 150 photovoltaic panels with an output 28 MWh/year on the roof of a new biomass boiler house. Surplus electricity can be sold to local customers.

Volvo also updated operational procedures to reduce energy use. Combination of improved procedures and the new types of energy enabled the plant to cut overall power consumption by 23%, despite an increase of 33% in output.

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Committed to reducing environmental footprint

Volvo Trucks opened its first eco-friendly office in Ghent, serving as a role model for all Volvo Truck offices around the world. The Ghent office uses 85% less energy than an average family house in Flanders. The 2 400-m2 office block houses 100 employees and has an average annual energy consumption of only 15 kWh/m2. Actions include applying a thick layer of insulation between outer and inner walls, and fitting windows with triple glazing of krypton glass. Heating and ventilation makes use of an underground network of geothermal heating pipes and a cooling system.

Over recent years, Volvo Trucks has implemented a range of measures to reduce the environmental footprint of its operations and products. In addition to its climate-neutral factory and eco-friendly office in Ghent, it has demonstrated seven lorries each running on a different renewable fuel. It has also started field testing heavy-duty hybrid refuse trucks with customers.

“These activities show that even a player in heavy industry can reduce climate impact to a major extent – from both its products and facilities,” says Lars Mårtensson, environment affairs manager.