published Sunday, March 21st, 2010

VW goes green

  • photo
    Sketch of Volkswagen's forthcoming New Mid-size sedan, which will be produced in their all-new production facility in Chattanooga. Market introduction is late 2011.

Volkswagen, adding weight to its slogan of “green city, green plant, green car,” will seek LEED status for its Chattanooga assembly plant.

The site would be the South’s first auto assembly plant and only the second nationally to gain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design badge, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

“LEED is green, and green is part of our image,” said Dieter Schleifer, manager of plant infrastructure for VW’s Chattanooga operations.

Tobias Schmedding, the plant’s assistant manager for environment, said the local plant will be VW’s greenest assembly plant worldwide.

“We chose the most efficient equipment and the most environmentally friendly processes,” he said.

A General Motors assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., is the only other that is LEED certified, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Council. That factory achieved the Gold level in 2006, said Ashley Katz with the Council.

According to VW, green is a focus companywide, including at its $1 billion Chattanooga plant slated to start production in early 2011.

Mr. Schleifer said green initiatives save money in the long run, especially if the efforts are put into place during the planning process rather than installed later.

“One example is energy,” he said. “If you invest in an energy-efficient plant, that will pay back over time.”

Mr. Schmedding said the plant’s planners fought for the facility to have more insulation, and the company’s board OK’ed the idea.

The plants exterior walls include six-inch wide mineral wool insulation panels squeezed between aluminum, the officials said.

“This is better than the basic standard in the U.S.,” Mr. Schmedding said.

He said the insulation is 35 percent more energy efficient that the standard.

Even the plant’s roof is considered more energy efficient. Mr. Schleifer said the roof surface is made of a white membrane, which helps reflect the sun, and it is double insulated.

During construction of the mammoth 2 million-square-foot facility, the separation and recycling of waste materials is routine with big containers spaced around the plant, the officials said.

“We made every contractor responsible for this,” Mr. Schleifer said, adding that at least 75 percent of construction waste is to be recycled.

PAINT SHOP

A key environmental effort will involve the plant’s paint shop, the officials said.

Mr. Schmedding said that in addition to using green-friendly water-based paint, VW will paint autos using two steps rather than the typical three. He said the move will save energy but maintain high-quality standards.

Additionally, Mr. Schleifer said the paint shop will use a dry filtration process rather than one which is water based.

“Usually, you get wet paint sludge,” said Mr. Schmedding. “With the change to dry, you get a dry powder.”

Inside the plant, VW is using thousands of florescent light tubes which are 20 percent more efficient than standard ones, said Mr. Schleifer.

At the plant’s offices, VW will utilize energy efficient LED lighting at employees’ desks, he said. In addition, skylights will be placed to provide natural lighting in the administrative area, Mr. Schleifer said.

LED lighting also will illuminate the parking lots around the plant.

“They’re very focused so there is no light pollution,” Mr. Schmedding said.

Plant windows will be double-paned and hold a special coating on the inside to reduce heat, Mr. Schleifer said.

“It’s a little bit like sunglasses,” he said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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