While electrified and pure electric vehicle sales continue to outpace the new car market, there remain lingering questions around the ethical sourcing and disposal of the batteries that power them. Sure, these questions are often presented as an objection to EVs in a bid to undermine their environmental credibility — but, like, how sustainable are EVs, really? Enter: blockchain.
Companies like BMW and Volvo are using blockchain technology, which, at its core, is a transparent and immutable ledger, to answer questions about the long-term sustainability of electric vehicles. Those questions have focused primarily on the mining of key components of EV battery production, like cobalt and lithium. Cobalt mining has historically been associated with child labor and other human rights abuses, and the blockchain’s ability to prove the provenance and traceability has been singled out by industry experts at PricewaterhouseCoopers as the biggest driver behind the widespread adoption of blockchain technology.
“Serious activity around blockchain is cutting through every industry across the globe right now,” offers Steve Davies, Partner and Blockchain Leader at PwC. “It’s driven by an acute need to win trust.”
For an automotive industry still feeling the effects of dieselgate — a scandal that led to jail time for auto industry executives and billions of dollars in fines for cheating emissions regulations — consumer trust is a crucial asset. And part of building that trust is offering proof, not just promises, that the business practices behind a given EV that a company is selling are in line with the moral character of the people buying it. “We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” said Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo Cars. “With blockchain technology we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimizing any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”
You can see more about how Volvo is using the technology below:
How Volvo is Using Blockchain to Ensure Green Street Cred
So, great — blockchain is ensuring electrified cars aren’t being made by slave labor — but what about their ability to impact air pollution and carbon emissions in the real world? Is that all greenwashing and PR-speak, or is that real?
To answer that question both Ford and Mercedes-Benz have launched pilot blockchain projects to track CO2 emissions — and not just in their respective companies’ cobalt supply chains, but on a municipal, “street level” as well. We covered Ford’s program back in February:
“The way it works is that low-emission and zero-emission vehicles like the Ford Transit PHEV are tracked as they enter and leave the low-emissions “green zones” that are becoming commonplace across Europe in the wake of diesel engine bans. The Ford vans offer geofencing technology as standard, which allows fleet managers to keep drivers in their given work zones and puts the van into a “pure” EV mode as it enters and leaves the green zones. The municipal fleet in Cologne, Germany, took that geofencing a step further by using blockchain technology to record the vans’ movements into a blockchain ledger, so that the number of “green miles” driven in that city’s low-emission zone could be securely and transparently stored online, where it could be shared among relevant stakeholders without being manipulated by one party or another to advance their own agenda.
“The trial also is also targeting the effects of dynamic geo fencing on overall air quality, instead of a fixed low-emission zone triggering the vehicles’ zero-emission modes. In practice, that meant Ford’s dynamic geofencing was constantly switching between “pure” EV and ICE drive based on air quality data that was being captured by weather science company Climacell and the City of Cologne. As pollution shifted amid changing winds, shifting weather conditions, and pedestrian traffic patterns, the hybrids kicked in their electric drives where they would be most beneficial, and switched on the ICE where its direct impact on people could be minimized.”
“Our research has shown how plug-in hybrid vehicles, and emerging connected technologies such as dynamic geofencing and blockchain, can play a major role in transforming cities,” said Mark Harvey, director of enterprise connectivity for Ford in Europe. And that transformation, it should be noted, is literally a life-saving one.
Regardless of what you may think of blockchain’s most famous progeny, Bitcoin, I think it’s fair to say that the tech’s ability to verify trust (or “zero trust,” from another perspective) can deeply change the way we view and interact with the brands we choose to buy and love. That’s just me, though — what about you guys? Let us know what you think of blockchain’s emerging role in the automotive supply chain and as a tool to measurably reduce harmful air pollutants in the comments section at the bottom or the page.