In recent weeks major car manufacturers such as well Volvo and Ford have both declared that their entire range of cars will be all-electric by 2030. It comes as industries across the world are making moves to reduce or eradicate completely their carbon footprint. Other car manufacturers are expected to follow suit soon.
In the fight against climate change, this is a good move. It also follows in the footsteps of Governments around the world who are setting their own targets to stop the sales of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars. But whilst this is very much a step in the right direction, there is going to be an unintended consequence for our sector that could have big ramifications.
Less petrol, less byproduct
Petrol and diesel, as we know, is produced from oil. The motor industry is one of the largest users of petrol and diesel, with 68% of total consumption used by cars in the US for example. But, remove millions of cars from the road that use petrol and diesel from the roads and demand for petrol and diesel is going to fall dramatically.
The problem for fenestration is that the resin used in PVC is a byproduct of petrol production. Less petrol means less byproduct, and we’re looking at a situation here where there will be no traditionally fuelled cars on the roads in all major economies inside a decade. This poses us with a very serious and immediate problem.
Right now we’re still using lots of virgin materials in this sector. Whilst the major systems companies are continuing to invest in their own recycling facilities, there remains a lot of work to do to bring UK fenestration into the circular manufacturing model fully. With electric cars soon to be the norm, the amount of oil being produced will reduce, therefore limiting our availability to resin. It won’t disappear completely, not at all, but there will be a lot less of it. It means the raw material price will continue to rise, lead times may stretch out further and the general price of our product to the end-user will become more expensive.
We’re going to see a lot more investment in the electric car sector over the coming years. There will be thousands more charging points installed. New-build homes are already being built with charging points from the start. Taxes will be adjusted. Factories will be built for battery product. We’re already on that journey, so to assume that this change to electric won’t happen is wrong. Affordability is going to become easier as well once the sector has scaled up and the technology becomes cheaper to produce.
It’s nine years to the end of the decade. That’s not as long as you think. Major changes have to be agreed to be made now to ensure we don’t suffer any unnecessary disruption.
Recycled vs PVC 2.0
The good news is that our industry has options. I wrote a few weeks ago about a new version of PVC created from the byproduct of wood pulp production. You can read more about there here.
This new version of PVC reduces its carbon footprint by 76%. The product is in its early stages and is being used in a trial in the city of Gothenburg in Sweden where it is being used for pipework. Right now there is no scale to produce this on mass. Whilst it uses materials from renewable sources and takes nothing out of the natural food chain, its more expensive than traditional PVC and right now is not in a place to supply the demand.
So, recycling and recycled materials become the immediate option we must look at. Thanks to the combined efforts of our major systems companies, millions upon millions of frames every year are recycled and go back into the supply chain. It keeps post-consumer waste out of the ground and supplies the sector with new raw materials not made from polluting means. But, we have a lot more to do. In the medium term, we have to continue to invest both in infrastructure and in communication to the industry to encourage the continued adoption of recycled materials. We have to press home the message that recycled materials are just as good (which has been proven) as virgin materials, and that long term this is going to be the direction of travel for all sectors, not just ours, and that we have to be on board with the idea from the start.
It makes complete sense from a range of angles. Fewer virgin materials mean fewer emissions which means its better for the planet. It is already creating a brand new sector for fenestration, with job creation and investment, which is only going to continue to grow over time. A circular manufacturing process means we control the supply chain. No more having to rely on imported materials, which we know after the past year or so can be easily disrupted when there are regional or global problems. It could even mean shorter lead times.
Then there is the public perception advantage. An industry that has always suffered from a cowboy reputation would benefit massively if the public were to see us undertaking a green revolution.
I think the biggest hurdle to overcome though is ourselves. I continue to sense a feeling of hesitation and derision when it comes to recycling and using recycled materials. The recycling process is highly advanced now, and the product it produces is of very good quality. For this, and the reasons stated above, we should have absolutely no hesitation in embracing all the advantages that recycled materials gives us. And to be a bit blunt, it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. Systems companies are increasing the amount of recycled content in their profile all the time, and Governments here and abroad will continue to introduce regulations and laws which will push us on to that path anyway. It’s better to get in front of the trend now and embrace the opportunities they bring.
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