When charged from renewable sources of electricity like solar or wind power, electric cars have a pretty low carbon footprint during their useful life, but when it comes to their manufacture, there’s still a large carbon footprint to account for.
Some automakers, like BMW and Tesla, have turned to non-traditional manufacturing materials like aluminium and carbon fibre in an attempt to make electric cars more energy efficient both in their manufacture and driving life. But over in Tennessee, where Nissan makes its U.S. market LEAF electric car, a team of engineers have just completed an exhaustive factory energy saving initiative which it says has saved the company enough power to drive a LEAF around the world more than 40,000 times.
What’s more, the improvements in energy saving at Nissan’s Deherd and Smyrna facilities in Tennessee have been so massive that Nissan is about to be awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest ENERGY STAR award — the 2014 Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award– for its attention to energy saving practices.
Stopping the leaks
One of Nissan’s biggest challenges in improving the energy efficiency at both Deherd and Smyrna facilities, where it makes the LEAF’s electric drivetrain and carries out final LEAF assembly respectively, was to tackle the industrial compressed air system running throughout both locations.
Required for providing adequate power for all the air tools used on the production line, the miles of compressed air pipes were examined in great detail by Nissan’s Energy Management Team to eliminate any leaks. Once detected and stopped, Nissan then implemented an air leak detection program to ensure the compressed air piping continued to operate at peak efficiency.
Combined, stopping the leaks in both facilities saved Nissan a massive 11,300 megawatts of energy, equivalent to powering 700 average American homes for an entire year.
Letting the sunshine in
As anyone who has toured most car factories will tell you — perhaps with the exception of Tesla’s Fremont factory that is — car factories are notoriously dark, dingy facilities, with the only lighting coming from fluorescent strip lights located way up in the rafters.
Nissan’s Tennesseean production facilities used to suffer from the same problem, but thanks to light tubes and skylights fitted into the roof, Nissan says it has dramatically reduced the amount of energy it needs to spend on artificial lighting. What’s more, natural lighting is far more pleasant to work in than artificial light, as anyone who has worked both in a warehouse and outside will tell you.
Nissan’s efforts to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent by 2016 weren’t just limited to power and lighting use in its facilities however. As Nissan details in its official press release announcing its receipt of the 2014 Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award, it installed a new paint plant early last year which applies all three paint layers in succession before the vehicle is baked in the paint oven instead of waiting and baking each layer separately. This process is responsible for another 30 percent reduction in energy consumption during the painting process.
The final reason Nissan has been awarded this year’s 2014 Partner of the Year by the EPA is its ongoing work with local schools and organisations in Tennessee. As well as helping fourteen local schools to achieve their own ENERGY STAR certification for their buildings, which Nissan says was enough money to pay ten teacher’ salaries, the automaker worked with ten other organisations in the area to share its best practices for energy management.In total, Nissan is thought to have helped save up to $1.5 million in energy costs at its facility and in the neighbouring community.
All in all, Nissan’s efforts to reduce its energy output have resulted in the emissions of a massive 2,800 tons of landfill waste being offset, but it’s also made the way the Nissan LEAF — one of the greenest cars on the road today — far greener.
So next time someone tells you that your electric car has a massive carbon footprint due to its more complex manufacture compared to a gasoline car, just politely remind them it probably has a far smaller carbon footprint today than it once would have done.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.