Twenty years ago Volvo invented and introduced the three-way catalytic converter to clean up car emissions, and the company sees the Volvo S70 and V70 as a further step in this direction. The cars are powered principally by methane (natural gas or biogas) and have a gasoline tank in reserve. Compared with gasoline, natural gas results in significantly lower total emissions per mile of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. It also produces 20 percent lower emissions of carbon dioxide. And, according to Volvo engineers, Volvo's emission control systems last; they are just as effective after 50,000 miles as when the car is new.
The world over, car manufacturers are looking to the future and trying to find alternative fuels that are also less polluting--electricity, alcohol, natural gas or biogas produced by waste. Volvo has chosen to concentrate on natural gas.
"We believe that gas is the most realistic alternative, at least during the next few years," said Bo Ramberg, project manger for bi-fuel Volvo cars. "There is a tremendous interest, especially in those countries which already have a natural gas network, like Australia."
A bi-fuel car driven on methane complies with the stringent Californian Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) requirements when it comes to hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Natural gas is also far cheaper than gasoline. The only real disadvantage to natural gas is that in most countries the infrastructure for refueling stations is not yet developed.
"In 1972, we started considering the environment as a core value along with safety and quality," said Fallon. "We have a program called ECRIS, a research joint venture in the field of car recycling which aims to comply with environmental, technical and financial requirements." Fallon said that since 1994 Volvo has been one of the partners in a pilot project designed to ensure that end-of-life Swedish cars are scrapped in a manner which results in increased recycling and a reduction in the environmental load. About 75 percent of the car can be recycled (in the pilot program the figure is 85 percent). The plastic parts are labeled so that scrap yards know exactly how to dispose of them. All plastic parts weighing more than 50 grams are marked to facilitate sorting. Recycled aluminum is used in the engine block.
Fallon is very proud of another first that Volvo has created. "We have a database called MOTIV---it is a database of chemicals that Volvo has created and consists of about 4,000 chemicals commonly used in cars. This database gives details on a chemical's effect on the environment, workers' health and customers' health and also what happens if the chemical is dumped at the end of a car's cycle."
The database has three categories of chemicals: The "black list" consists of chemicals that are dangerous and never used by Volvo; the "gray list" contains chemicals that are not so harmful but Volvo still tries not to use them, and the "white list" has chemicals that are safe. Fallon said that this information is provided to anyone who wants to use it, even to other car companies.
Manufacturing processes that cause pollution are also being eliminated, said Jose L. Diaz de la Vega, Volvo's chief designer for Interior, Color and Trim. "Our exterior paints are created by water-based solvents so we have one of the cleanest processes in the world. Normally you have thinner and alcohol-based solvents--these fumes escape into atmosphere." In addition, he said that the woods used in the interior trim of the cars come from farms that cultivate trees. "We are also investigating the use of more natural fibers in our upholstery or synthetic material that can be recycled," he said.
Volvo has pioneered in the use of environmental specifications for its car. The first company to do this was Volvo in Japan, in 1996, a move that was widely applauded. The Nikkei Newspaper proclaimed Volvo the most environmentally friendly car company in Japan, and Volvo sales in Japan rose 17 percent for the year. According to Volvo executives, the company's cars' most important environmental objectives are:
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