Article published 15 November 2023

Photo montage of a profile picture of a woman and a picture of the assembly of a car

‘Reporting requirements for companies will keep increasing’ - Interview with Beatriz Ildefonso from CLEPA

Hello Beatriz Ildefonso, Circularity and Materials Manager at CLEPA! Tell us about CLEPA.

- CLEPA is the European Association of Automotive Suppliers. Within IRISS, we represent the automotive value chain. That means that my contribution to the IRISS project is speaking on behalf of the understanding of automotive suppliers.

Within IRISS, our main goal is to test the applicability of the Safe-and-Sustainability-by-Design (SSbD) framework for the automotive value chain by gathering feedback from the CLEPA members on safety and sustainability aspects. At CLEPA, I work on the regulatory files that refers to materials, chemicals and circularity. I also work with the research and innovation part of CLEPA. Besides me, there are several colleagues at CLEPA working on Sustainability and Safety aspects, mainly from a regulatory perspective but also strategic point of view, by mapping our members common commitments and understanding what barriers need to be addressed to achieve them.

Have you identified any areas within circularity that is lacking in research, or it hasn’t been explored to the sense that we can apply it?

- The automotive sector is an important industry in Europe, one that moves a lot of materials and resources and has a big influence on workforce, so it usually under some level of scrutiny. It is an industry that has frequently been a frontrunner in terms of sustainability and innovation. The automotive sector is for instance one of the main R&D investors in the EU. We have recently done a comprehensive review of research and innovation needs of automotive suppliers in terms of circularity (read the report on CLEPAs website External link, opens in new window.). It lists about 30 research needs, which may refer to the need of better materials and ecodesign strategies or tools; the need for continued investment and recognition of lifetime maximisation of products and parts; or the need for better end-of-life solutions. One of the aims of such an exercise was to better understand if there are enough R&I opportunities in the EU for such topics. It is clear that circular economy is addressed by many EU Partnerships, (2ZERO being the most relevant one), but our intention is to keep alerting for the specificity and complexity of the supply chain for products that will stay on the market for many years.

You’ve mentioned circularity, but what are some relevant topics right now for the automotive value chain?

- Due to the focus on electrification, critical raw materials and batteries seem to be one of the key topics on industry's and regulator's agendas. We know that a significant share of all batteries produced in the next years will go to electric vehicles. That puts a big spotlight on the automotive sector in terms of how to make this as sustainable as possible and how will we make this work in Europe, in terms of materials and overall production process, use-phase, end of life and all requirements foreseen for manufacturers. Plus, what we see with batteries is somehow a sneak-peak into the future of all product-specific legislation.

There is also the question on the recycling of the batteries. Even if the focus is on lithium-ion batteries now, we don’t know if there will be other batteries’ chemistries more broadly used in the next years. Will there then be enough recycling capacity for those different chemistries if we are putting all the efforts into one specific battery type now? I think there is a big challenge in keeping an open mind to the evolution of the battery technology, while still trying to regulate it. This may raise a big issue for companies in terms of investment certainty. Then there are geopolitical struggles: the apparent political will to bring the production processing back to Europe and invest in the industrial capacity here while, at the same time, we know that we will rely to a certain extent on importation. Puzzling that together in a way that the EU is maintaining stable cooperation with other regions of the world is something that is maybe not fully addressed.

Something else that is key right now is the development of the automotive specific product carbon footprint methodology. There is no harmonized methodology so far, which means that each automotive supplier is having to comply with different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) requests and targets, which can be difficult especially for smaller companies. Reporting requirements for companies will just keep on increasing, we know that from the currently proposed legislation, so harmonizing the tools, methodologies and processes in the supply chain will be vital not to burn unnecessary resources.

On the topic of chemicals and safety, the new group approach to restrictions is a real concern for the industry right now. We see what is happening with PFAS, also a big topic for the automotive sector. It requires huge efforts to understand how thousands of substances can potentially be replaced by equally good alternatives. Fluropolymers for example are broadly used in different automotive parts and appropriate alternatives are missing.

The Electric Vehicles Directive (ELV) has existed for many years, but this year it became a proposal for a new regulation. The intention is to improve the level of circularity and sustainability of the automotive sector and it’s always good that this is done with sector specific legislation.

Do you see any big challenges in implementing SSbD in the automotive value chain?

- There is still some uncertainty in the automotive sector on how SSbD will be implemented, who would be the stakeholders in the value chain and where it will apply. It might be that this is more for the chemical manufacturers and material manufacturers. The challenge I see is how to make the data available on the level of detail that is needed for all relevant sustainability and safety aspects. Within IRISS, we’ve done reports looking at case studies for the applicability of SSbD framework and mapping the existing challenges. In addition, there is the need for a skilled workforce that can use the SSbD framework, to make better material chemical choices for example. Suppliers are somehow sandwiched between the material chemical manufacturers and the OEMs, since they have to comply to the customer request based on what is available at the market. I believe by the end of this project we will have a pretty good understanding of what challenges will arise.

How can IRISS help?

- Just the fact that this project brings together so many different value chains is already useful. Before the project, SSbD was not really a topic closely followed at CLEPA. Through the reports and all that we do, I try to engage CLEPA members, by asking for their feedback and sharing information, which is good to start raising awareness. We have had the chance to present the project to the CLEPA national associations, which are often closer to SMEs because they can work more closely to national companies than CLEPA.

I think IRISS is well placed to map the needs of companies with SSbD implementation and based on that make recommendations, build awareness and identifying the skills and educational needs. Whenever a new topic is being discussed, there is always a skills and knowledge gap. Making that visible as a key barrier to implementation is something that IRISS could also do.

How can companies work with SSbD and implementation?

- I try to point out why SSbD matters and why you should care as a supplier for example. You might assume that this is something that is only touching chemical manufacturers and that level of the supply chain, but we try to show how the companies are affected.

Secondly, it has to start with a basic understanding of how broad this framework is and all the different elements to it. It might be that at some point there should be a unit in the company that is following all those different elements of SSbD and have that understanding on how they are performing in the different elements. Companies already have to look at their supply chain and all of their materials, but maybe having a more detailed understanding of the framework could be a good first step.