Polestar Sustainability exec comments on hybrids, carbon offsets, repairs, recycling, efficiency and more

A few days ago Polestar Australia held a media briefing that I attended in Sydney, featuring their global Head of Sustainability Fredrika Klarén.

Klarén joined Polestar in April 2020 to drive the company’s sustainability ambitions forward through strategic focus areas: climate-neutrality, circularity, transparency and inclusion. She is a firm believer in the role of business as a catalyst for sustainable development and has held sustainability positions over the past decade at IKEA and Swedish fashion retailer KappAhl.

Klarén commented about many aspects of the electric car industry, climate change as well as the supply chain.

Some quote excerpts from this briefing are below:

Efficiency and Performance

It’s so important that we move away from, you know sustainable solutions being boring you know a huge step back for consumers. So that’s why I’m excited to come in and work at a premium performance company because we get to do things within that scope that is very, you know, innovative and exciting and very needed.

Yeah because we need to tap into, you know, the drive of consumers and people all over the world to you know, progress and enjoy the thrill of being human, i.e. driving fast cars but doing it in a sustainable way within the planetary boundaries.

Our customers drive is to cars that are exciting to drive, safe to drive but also sustainable.

We mustn’t forget that it should be a thrill to live on planet Earth and that that can be a great motivator for sustainable development as well.

So we’re working with efficiency continuously to improve that. We know that that is of course a key element both for consumers and for the carbon footprint of the car.

That’s the power of bringing in the software, so one thing I forgot to tell you about is that over-the-air updates that we can make the car more efficient, like magic without you even knowing it [eg improve charging curve].

Carbon Offsets

There are carbon trading schemes that work and have right impact. If the mechanism that governments and policy makers are deciding on, if they really shape them to the way that it has a basis in science, it can work. But we’re also seeing a lot of schemes that doesn’t work.

In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was being written in the UN and this idea was conceptualized for a very great reason because they saw that, okay, we could we could offset that. There is a balance sheet here to climate and the UN started drafting a standard, but that has grown to become a monster, greenwashing monster and scientists are pointing to this now that it’s not working quickly enough.

If you plant trees, it’s going to take decades before they capture the CO2 and we don’t have time. Remember, we have 7 years.

So we are we are opting out of that rhetoric we’re very open to conserving forests and planting trees but we don’t make any claims they that can offset the emissions from the cars that we are producing now because it doesn’t do that in time.

Battery and Electronics Replacement, Repairability and Recycling

Ours are modular. So we’ve got all these individual cells, so that’s where you can test each of those. And if one is not working as well, you don’t have to change the whole thing. You can take out that one cell module in regional centres. [Another Polestar staff member says Yes we can fix our batteries in Australia.]

Battery Technology is developing also. What we’re seeing is they’re not degrading in the way that was feared first.

This is uncharted territory for, the automotive industry software, you know, all of the digital hardware going into that to the cars, we’re also seeing that electronics have a really high carbon carbon footprint generally. So at Polestar, this is a hot topic. We’re discussing how to reduce the impact from the hardware we bring into the cars, also really questioning what is the purpose of this hardware.

For me coming from the fashion industry, I think we have a beautiful setup in the automotive industry. We service these products, we can do updates, we can change things, we can repair. So from Polestar’s perspective, we want to secure that we in the design teeam enable that. And modularity will of course be a way for us to repurpose the car so that we can secure that it gets as long a life as possible.

When it comes to battery, it’s crucial that we are able to re manufacture / repair. Polestar 2 has a great setup with that type of battery.

We can actually take out the battery module and we can repair it. We are working with Volvo now. We’ve set up battery centres in China, in the EU and US where we can bring in damaged batteries from all over the world and they make an assessment if they can repair the battery, they do that and they replace the battery and bring it to a second life.

But we’re also really investigating remanufacturing of batteries in these battery centres. Now we’re not getting batteries in for repair because they’re working beautifully. So no high volumes. But it’s more of learning about this as an OEM. How can we secure that? We can repair that. We can remanufacture batteries but we really [need] to get recycled content into the production of new batteries so they can’t be only used for second life.

So we’re going to have to be able to both to kind of have lot of solutions and to really build strong partnerships also with recycling companies. So you can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. It’s really you have to be flexible because the battery technology is going to change and it needs to be able to change the coming ten years. We’re going to have to need to always tweak and improve it.

There’s no easy answer to this. We’re in a situation now where we need to research still while we’re developing these things, because traditionally companies have been like, oh, this is the solution. We need to lock this in. And I think that especially when it comes to cell chemistry, battery technology, we’re in the situation where we need to be really open and continue to improve and develop solutions.

We have partnerships with recycling companies. We we want to secure that as much as the content as possible is being recycled. We buy recycled content from that type of source. So, for example, you know, in the motors we have rare earth elements, really risky materials like neodymium and so on.

And we’ve partnered up now to research the possibility, the capability of bringing in recycled rare earth elements from discarded motors in old cars and recycling them because Apple is really good at that. They have mainly only 100% recycled rare earth elements. But we don’t have that infrastructure in the industry. So we’re working with recycling now to explore that, to see if that can that can be done.

Charging Networks

One thing that that could solve a lot [in Australia] is if Tesla would decide to to open up their charging stations in Australia. And we really were so excited when they did that in Sweden.

I think the challenge also is not getting stuck in the narrative that it doesn’t work. Because what we’ve seen in in Norway and Sweden is that, you know, when they finally started scaling the infrastructure, it happened so quickly. So consumers were stuck in the perception that there were no charging stations out there. But if you looked at the map, you know, they had access.

Polestar Affordability

We are a premium company. That’s the basis of what we do. So we want to work in an industry where there’s all kinds of alternatives for the consumers. And we’re seeing that that’s happening. I mean, we have Volkswagen, we have other companies really producing EVs for their consumers and types of wallet sizes.

So we really feel like we can, you know, fully dive into what it means to be a premium company in this industry. And that means that we can, really seek out innovative avantgarde solutions.

Someone needs to be there on the frontier and secure that we’re finding solutions that then can be scalable and that’s what we want to do.

I think it’s a responsibility. I mean, people with money needs to finance this change. They need to be early adopters, They need to invest in this so that it can be scaled and then be delivered to many people. And so I see more of a responsibility than a privilege.

Another Polestar staff member chips in: Back on the point about access for everyday Australians because I think this is also where government policy comes into play, where we need a really solid second hand market of electric vehicles in this country, which is why switching over government fleets for example or our partnership with Hertz where over the course of a couple of years you start to see a much bigger influx of second hand cars.

What she thinks of Hybrids

It’s not possible. We cannot continue using fossil fuels. So from our standpoint our climate strategy is based on IPCC. It’s a top down approach. We’ve said that we need to be climate neutral by 2040 as a company and we need to halve emissions by 2030. And that’s not what we can do. That is what the climate scientists are telling us that we need to do as companies.

All companies need to have that strategy to enable us to combat climate change in time. So that’s kind of our predicament here, that that we know this and we know that there’s there is no place for non-EV’s after 2030. In that scenario, it just cannot be calculated to work.

To me you’re still putting gasoline in the car. So don’t focus on that technology at all because if you keep focusing, if you keep having that in your business plan, you’re not going to be able to level up in the way that you need to do in terms of this new technology. I think that leaders are having to walk a very difficult walk, unfortunately there are so many interests in this. So leaders have to be really, really bold, really bold now, now more than ever and that is that is what is needed for this to happen.

And of course, I mean, hydrogen and other solutions will be so important for heavier transport and and other transport nodes. But let’s let’s, you know, wake up to the fact that we don’t have time.

Other Car Manufacturer brands

Collective action is what we will want to take where we have, you know, measurable targets, for example that we want to deliver a fully climate neutral car by 2030. If all OEMs would decide on doing that, we would start talking in the same way to the suppliers and that that’s what really needed. So we are welcoming any other OEM, you know, copying us or just being inspired about what we have done and doing the exact same thing.

It’s so dangerous for the industry if it only keeps talking about electric vehicles as being the saviour, we’re going to come in to New Dieselgate. Let’s instead be radically transparent and disclose the impact of these products while at the same time being really clear about that they’re the better alternative now.

So we have to be able to, combine those two messages. And we were a bit scared when we published a full LCA for Polestar 2. That was unprecedented. No one had done that to that level of transparency, but we decided to do it. We have a very bold CEO and management team who was really positive towards that, and in the end it’s only been positive responses, no one has criticized or been confused by this knowledge and data that we put out there. So I don’t understand why more aren’t doing it.

OEM’s are locked into their business plans. They’ve planned for a transition and I understand that. But the thing is that the timeline is wrong and it’s not in line with climate science.

So what we need to do is that we need to tear up those business plans and make new ones so all of the money that we are putting into making the legacy technology more efficient and all of the incentives that are supporting the ICE cars and the fossil industry is being put into clean technology and electric vehicles so that we can quickly start scaling up so that we can create close loop for minerals and metals, that we get new business models so that we don’t have to produce more and more cars as well. There’s so many things the solutions are there.

Polestar 0, Lifecycle Assessments and Continuous CO2 reduction program for Polestar Cars

If you’ve heard the latest news from the climate world we only have 7 years left until we hit 1.5 degrees of global warming. That’s a fact.

So creating a climate neutral car by 2030 will enable us to find climate solutions that will reduce emissions already today. We want to be very outspoken about this because first of all, we wanted our designers and engineers to know that this was real.

This is something that we are asking them to now focus on. But also the industry as a whole needs to step up. It’s impossible for Polestar by ourselves to deliver this car by 2030, so we need an industry movement. That’s why we communicated this goal before even knowing how to get there.

We deliver lifecycle assessments for our cars. So you can go into our website and find the exact carbon footprint for Polestar 2 and we have committed to publish publishing lifecycle assessments with the total carbon footprint for all of our variants and models. In our LCA methodology, we take into account everything.

So everything from the raw material extraction with all of the fuels and the energy that have been used in that process, all of the transports between the layers of the supply chain, the handover to the customer, the end of life. We also, in the report show you three different scenarios depending on how you charge the car. But of course we know that that is something that we cannot fully control.

So we’ve decided to focus on cradle to gate. So that’s from raw material extraction to when we hand over the car to the customer.

And then we also add on end of life. So the emissions stemming from the recycling of the car. So we’re adding everything and that’s what we need to do because don’t have the luxury of excluding anything. We have to figure out the transports as well. And yeah, so that’s the challenge.

We’ve shown that on Polestar 3 if you compare to Polestar 2, it’s a huge battery in the Polestar 3 of 111 kilowatt hours, but it actually has the same carbon footprint roughly as Polestar 2 because we’ve managed to bring in more renewable energy.

That’s the challenge now, finding suppliers who can produce metal components with renewable energy. What we’re finding is for example in China that we can move parts of the production to regions with a high share of water power and really see a great impact from that.

That’s what we’ve done with the latest model year update for Polestar 2, where we were able to resource the aluminium in the rims and in the battery tray so that it came from regions where they had water power. That meant that we shaved off more than 1 tonne of CO2 in the production emissions for model for Polestar 2.

So finding renewable energy will be key and recycled content is also important, but we’re almost finding that sometimes we have to choose between, okay, what has the greatest impact here? Aluminium from renewable energy sources or recycled aluminium. So that’s why you always have to calculate. We have an amazing LCA team who always help designers and producers and engineers to do these calculations.

We have Volvo and Geely, great partners in this endeavour who have long term relationships with suppliers who can really also come in with this new way of working. But I mean, the industry really has to open up for more flexibility. When we delivered Polestar 2, We decided okay, so now we need a CO2 reduction program for Polestar 2 and we went about that the way that the industry normally do cost reduction programs, but we added CO2. So, so that that is how we got these model year changes.


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