SAE WCX 2022: Sustainability Is a Lifecycle Mindset

Industry leaders seek to standardize what the often-hyperbolic term ‘sustainable’ means for suppliers, OEMs, and their products.

Toyota North America aims to have its operations and products at carbon neutral by 2050. (Toyota)

“Going green” is a mantra that most if not all automotive OEMs and suppliers profess to follow. SAE International is also committed to the dialogue, with its recently announced Office of Sustainability. But what do these terms mean in practice? “There is no more important challenge for the industry than the commitment to build vehicles that share and create a cleaner and more efficient environment,” Harry Husted, VP and chief technology officer of BorgWarner, said during the SAE WCX 2022  leadership panel, “Sustainability: It’s in Everyone’s Business Interest” on April 6.

What happens today and tomorrow sets the stage for the future. “Forever means sustainability. And in the mobility space, it means electrification,” Chris Nevers, senior director of public policy for EV newcomer Rivian, whose product line-up includes the R1T pickup truck and the R1S SUV. Automakers around the globe are adding EVs to their product stables, with virtually every vehicle OEM committing to a full, or very significant, shift to electrified vehicles in the coming years. As the number of EVs increases, so too are the number of charging stations.

Panelists discussed sustainability during an April 6 Leadership Summit session at SAE WCX 2022. From left: panel moderator Frank Menchaca, chief growth officer for SAE International; Bryan Rubio with Ideanomics; Harry Husted with BorgWarner (shown on the big screen); Chris Nevers with Rivian; and Kevin Butt with Toyota. Electrify America’s Matthew Nelson participated via a remote link. (Adam Isovitsch/SAE)

Electrify America, which has the most public fast-charging stations in the U.S., recently announced its network will add 100 charging stations with solar awnings and 350-kW fast charging. “We think that 350-kW charging, which allows a vehicle to recharge at about 20 miles of range per minute, is the game-changer. It’s the essential ‘thing’ to enable mainstream Americans to go electric and switch from gasoline,” Matthew Nelson, director of governmental affairs at Electrify America, told the WCX audience via remote link. He added that the company’s charging stations are powered with renewable energy.

For electrified commercial vehicles, wired charging isn’t the only option, according to Bryan Rubio, director of Energy Services for Ideanomics. One of the company’s subsidiaries, Wave, is a provider of wireless charging (125 kW to 500 kW) for commercial EVs. In simple terms, Wave’s charging pads are roadway-embedded to enable wireless power transfer over a 5-inch to 8-inch (127 to 203mm) air gap to a receiving pad on the vehicle’s undercarriage.

The company’s wireless inductive charging powers America’s largest mass transit electric bus fleet (the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in California). “Will wireless charging be as prolific in the passenger vehicle space as it will be in the medium- and heavy-duty space – that’s a great question,” Rubio said.

Kevin Butt, regional environmental sustainability director for Toyota’s North American Environmental Sustainability Programs, encouraged industry leaders to look at sustainability with wide-ranging vision. “Where do we get the power to power the chargers? That’s the bigger sustainability question,” Butt asserted. “There needs to be balance. We need to think about the whole lifecycle of how we’re doing this.”

He also advocated for green practices across the automotive supply chain. “We have green supplier requirements,” Butt said, referencing Toyota contractual agreements that set targets of 3% carbon reduction on an annual basis. “We’re not just telling them that. We’re helping them with that,” Butt said, citing webinars and seminars on the subject matter.

“This space of sustainability requires mutual understanding, mutual definitions, and mutual cooperation to be able to move us collectively into a space where we are actually achieving the targets that we’re looking at,” Butt declared. Collaboration and the sharing of ideas is one way to help all parties succeed with sustainability goals. “This shouldn’t be exclusive. This should be an area where we can work together and share that best practice and share the progress that’s being made,” he said.