“Zero waste production is possible”

In the search for "The Next Green Thing", Daimler has entered into a cooperation with bio-composite manufacturer UBQ Materials in the context of its “Startup Autobahn” innovation platform. The Israeli start-up reuses household waste and makes a bio-based plastic from it – all of it 100% recycled and 100% recyclable. We have taken a look behind the scenes of this promising partnership...

Birgit Klockenhoff (left) and Sophie Tuviahu at STARTUP AUTOBAHN Expo Day.

We meet Birgit Klockenhoff from the Mercedes-Benz Group research and Sophie Tuviahu from UBQ Materials on a rainy Thursday afternoon at Stuttgart Wagenhallen. The two are part of an interdisciplinary project team that has set itself the task of producing car parts for Mercedes-Benz vehicles from 100% recyclable thermoplastics. The colleagues have just come from their pitch, which took place during the Startup Autobahn Expo-Days. The mood is cheerful. They have made great progress with their project and were able to win over the crowd. So, this is the best opportunity for some critical questions...

Birgit, what made Mercedes-Benz Group Research choose UBQ as a partner?

Birgit: UBQ offers a technically special material and technology in the field of circular economy – which fits perfectly into Daimler’s sustainable business strategy. Besides that, the highly experienced management team and the well-recognized advisors from different sectors of research, business and politics make that Startup very attractive for us.

UBQ as a start-up company and Daimler are completely different players. How do the two of you cooperate?

Sophie: Both Daimler and UBQ are focused on delivering a positive impact to our environment by becoming circular and upcycling waste – from this perspective the cooperation between the two is almost natural.

Birgit: The way we work together is highly professional and trusting. As we share the same vision of the future, we are both open to share information and trust in the expertise and knowledge of the respective partner.

Circular economy is a model of production and consumption in in which existing materials and products are reused, repaired, reconditioned and recycled for as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of the products is extended. Once a product has reached the end of its life cycle, resources and materials remain in the economy as much as possible. They can be used again and again to continue generating added value. The goal of a circular economy is a resource-efficient and sustainable use of natural raw materials, their continued use and recycling within a closed-loop system and the avoidance of waste.

Can we say at this stage whether the UBQ material can be integrated into our vehicles?

Birgit: When we start a project at Mercedes-Benz Group Research we don’t expect a technology to be at that high level of development with almost all questions already being answered before going to market. It can happen that we have to solve larger technical problems during the evaluation process – with UBQ this is working out very well, so far.

In which automotive parts can UBQ materials be installed?

Birgit: We would start evaluating easy parts such as panels, holders, or boxes – so that we can learn more about the material and its behavior in big serial production and minimize risks. After having proven first successful applications this way, we are planning to develop the project even more.

In a next step, we could imagine to promote UBQ Materials with partnering suppliers to support offsetting the carbon footprint all across the Daimler supply chain.

For the production of the UBQ material the entire household waste stream is being used including includes food waste, garden trimming, diapers, paper, cardboard – as well as all kind of mixed plastics

Why would you do that at such an early stage?

Birgit: In our plants and factories there are so many products like logistic carriers and boxes and other packaging materials that could also be made out of UBQ. In my opinion, we should not limit the technology only to automotive parts. We should be open to many different approaches to help achieving Ambition2039. Using recycled materials directly reduces the primary resources needed to make our products and can as well reduce the share of greenhouse gases emitted to the environment during production.

Sophie, UBQ is an Israeli company. How is household waste recycled in Israel?

Sophie: In Israel there is almost no separation at source. In fact, Israelis have only one bin at home, and all the household waste goes into it. The missing separation makes recycling so much more challenging, and the volumes directed to landfills much higher. But the problem is global: waste volumes are rising to alarming heights. By 2050, up to five billion tons of waste are expected to be produced worldwide each year. Many valuable materials end up in landfills or incineration.

And you can use some of this waste to make the thermoplastic?

Sophie: We use the entire household waste stream, including organics, to produce UBQ material. By utilizing these valuable materials to create a valuable thermoplastic that can replace wood and plastics, we are preventing the depletion of natural resources and the pollution of our natural environment. We really want to make an impact, that’s why we are looking to expand our activities internationally while partnering with waste haulers, companies, governments and retailers looking for circular, economically viable and sustainable solutions.

At the moment, easy parts such as panels, holders, or boxes are being tested as application areas for the UBQ material.

How can you turn the garbage I throw away at home into a new car part?

Sophie: The mixed waste UBQ used as feedstock includes food waste, garden trimming, diapers, paper, cardboard – as well as all kind of mixed plastics. We found a way to convert this messy mix into a homogenous composite material by breaking down the organic streams of the waste to its more basic natural components. This thermoplastic material can replace the conventional plastic used in part manufacturing.

That sounds like a very elaborate production process. Isn't the material production itself extremely energy consuming?

Sophie: The UBQ process is highly efficient – we work at relatively low temperatures, do not use any water and do not create any affluent or emissions during the conversion process. The climate positive impact of UBQ is a result of the diversion of waste from landfills and the avoidance of harmful landfill emissions, like Methane and CO2.

How long did it take you to create these conditions?

Sophie: We spent close to 6 years in completing the development of an economically viable process. These efforts involved a leading group of engineers and scientists, advisors and process development partners and of course a very supportive group of investors.

Birgit Klockenhoff: “We should not limit the technology only to automotive parts, but be open to many different approaches.”

Are there any characteristics by which I can tell that the plastic is sustainable? How do UBQ materials differ from conventional plastics?

Sophie: Green Dot defines the basic strategy to a more sustainable plastic as reducing the proportion of petroleum-based feedstock – we have done that in a big way. The upcycling of waste into a renewable, biobased content adds to the sustainable claim. That is a unique proposition only UBQ provides in the plastic world.

And finally a classic closing question: What is your vision?

Birgit: I feel, that our common vision of a sustainable future is to encourage the use of recycled materials, to make a social contribution and to develop economical viable technologies in the long-term.

Sophie: UBQ has the vision of a future where zero waste production is real. To this end we must avoid waste materials being wasted. We are deeply convinced that this is possible.

  • STARTUP AUTOBAHN

STARTUP AUTOBAHN is Europe's most successful innovation platform for mobility. It was founded in 2016 by Daimler in cooperation with "Plug and Play", the research factory "ARENA2036" and the University of Stuttgart.

In order to help shape the future of the automotive industry and secure competitive advantages in a dynamic market environment, the industry needs new innovations quickly. Within the framework of the STARTUP AUTOBAHN, relevant start-up innovations are tested, evaluated and rapidly implemented. In a three-stage process - scouting, pilot phase and implementation - new products, technologies and solution-oriented applications are developed and presented to a broad audience.

Daimler uses the STARTUP AUTOBAHN innovation platform for the topics of vehicle development and mobility as well as digitalization and sustainability.

Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars is the only automaker to use a life cycle assessment to assess the potential environmental impact of all its products along their entire life cycle as part of its environmentally compatible product design. We prepare this life cycle analysis in accordance with the international ISO standard 14040 and also have it verified by an independent, external body. We publish the results of the life cycle assessment and the other environmental impacts as an audited version in the "360-degree environmental check".

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