Technological Centre

Marta Iglesias Émbil | SEAT Materials & Environmental Innovation: “The automotive sector is undergoing a revolution that we have to adapt to no matter what”

CETIM Technological Center is one of the 62 leading companies in different sectors that collaborate with the PERTE “Future: Fast Forward (F3)” to turn Spain into the hub of the electric vehicle in Europe. It is the largest business grouping in the history of the automotive industry in Spain, led by the Volkswagen Group and SEAT S.A. We talked to Marta Iglesias, head of Environmental Innovation and Materials in the SEAT R&D area, about the challenges to be faced in the coming years, the RELOAD project in which CETIM is participating, as well as other R&D collaborations already underway such as ECLIPSE.

SEAT has presented the Future: Fast Forward (F3) project to the PERTE for the Electric and Connected Vehicle (ECV). What has the experience of participating in the largest business grouping in the history of the automotive industry in Spain been like?
We are proud and privileged to be part of this group. Thanks to it, we will succeed in electrifying and making the Spanish automotive industry in general more sustainable. SEAT was responsible for motoring Spanish society in its early days, and now we aim to transform the Spanish automotive industry into a more sustainable and innovative one. Thanks to collaboration with other Spanish companies, as well as research organizations, we will be able to achieve this goal.

F3 aspires to turn Spain into an electric vehicle HUB in Europe. How do you face the challenge posed by the electrification of the sector? What future trends do you see in the automotive sector?
It is a great challenge, given that production lines have to be transformed, as well as vehicle design and development skills have to be updated and a solid know-how has to be created. And not only competences have to be established in terms of electrification, but also in other future trends, such as connectivity, the autonomous car, and the circular economy. Indeed, the automotive sector is undergoing a revolution, a paradigm shift, to which we have to adapt.

The Circular Economy is becoming increasingly important in industries, including the automotive industry. F3 includes the primary project RELOAD, which seeks to recover high-value metals present in ECV components. How important is the recovery of these metals for SEAT?
It is extremely important, bearing in mind that a car is a product that consumes large amounts of resources. Moreover, the car not only consumes the so-called base metals, but also consists of others, which, although present in small quantities, are scarce and therefore critical from the point of view of their supply. Today, a car can be said to be a “mine on wheels”, since almost all the metals of the periodic table (almost 50) are contained in the car. Moreover, although these scarce metals are contained in small quantities, the turnover effect greatly affects the demand for these metals. It is therefore essential to study strategies for the recovery of metals with high added value, such as the one we are going to tackle with the RELOAD project. In this project we will investigate both 4.0 disassembly technologies and innovative recycling processes, applied to key components of the electric vehicle.

“Since we had our first contact at the Raw Materials Week 2019, in these three years CETIM has shown that you know how to interpret the needs we have presented to you and build projects that meet them in record time.”

RELOAD is driven by CETIM, with whom SEAT has been collaborating for years in the recovery of critical raw materials. How do you assess the collaboration in R&D for the recovery of these elements?
Collaboration with research organizations, such as CETIM, is fundamental for research in this field. Throughout this time, I have realized the professionalism and commitment that you show at CETIM. Since we had our first contact at the Raw Materials Week 2019, different possibilities for collaboration have been forged, which have come to fruition with the RELOAD and ECLIPSE projects. In these three years you have shown that you know how to interpret the needs we have presented to you and build projects that meet them in record time. In the case of RELOAD, we have demanded 200% from you due to the deadlines and the requirements of the PERTE call for proposals.

With CETIM you also collaborate in the ECLIPSE MISSIONS project, which, together with 7 other partners, is researching new technologies for the recovery of complex plastic waste. What does participating in large-scale R&D initiatives such as ECLIPSE bring to SEAT?
As I said before, it is a privilege to be part of a consortium R&D project in which we collaborate with leading companies in Spain. In this project, in which we are tackling the recovery of polymers from end-of-life vehicles, we are tackling a major current challenge in waste treatment, which is high on the agenda of the European Commission. Bearing in mind that the average car contains 200 kilos of plastics, we have to take responsibility and ensure that this raw material is recovered once the vehicles reach their end of life, with the aim of reintroducing them into new vehicles, and thus close the technological cycle of polymers (closed-loop recycling). On the SEAT side, we are going to obtain very valuable conclusions on how to improve the design of our plastic parts in order to facilitate this end-of-life recovery. The objective is the same as in the case of the RELOAD project, but applied to metals. At the end of the day, it is about learning eco-design lessons to be applied to our vehicles, to ensure that we transform the sector towards circularity.

“A car can be said to be a ‘mine on wheels’, since almost all the metals of the periodic table (almost 50) are contained in the vehicle.”

What value do you expect to gain from the eco-design of complex waste recycling routes and proof-of-concept testing of parts with recycled polymers?
The path to circularity includes the introduction of recycled and renewable materials, among other measures. However, the current method of recycling polymers is based on mechanical processes, which have significant limitations in delivering plastics that meet quality and environmental requirements. Therefore, the development of innovative recycling technologies will make it possible to bring larger quantities of recycled material to the market, ready for reintroduction into new parts. This is another point that adds value to the project, that the same plastic can be reintroduced again and again in the same sector for which it was produced in the first instance. Furthermore, by validating the recycled plastic in our parts, we will obtain valuable results, which will enable us to further optimize the recycling processes in the future, and thus ensure that the recycled plastic meets the high demands required in the automotive sector.

Finally, we would like to know what role you think vectors such as sustainability and circular economy will play in the future of the automotive and mobility industry.
I think they will play a key role in the future of our industry. As I said before, being a resource-intensive sector, and taking into account the finite nature of resources, as well as the geopolitical context, it is imperative that the sector transforms towards circularity. Current supply crises, such as those caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, represent only the tip of the iceberg, as the disruption of the supply of strategic raw materials will be more frequent than we think, given that we are facing a systemic or structural problem, and not one-off events. Moreover, the shift towards electrification, connectivity and the autonomous car, implying higher resource consumption, will exacerbate this. Therefore, the transformation towards a circular economy, together with decarbonization, is the great challenge of our sector and, in general, of our time.

SEAT S.A. is the only company that designs, develops, manufactures and markets cars in Spain. Part of the Volkswagen Group, the multinational is headquartered in Martorell (Barcelona) and sells vehicles under the CUPRA and SEAT brands, while SEAT MO is the business unit that covers urban mobility products and solutions. SEAT S.A. exports more than 80% of its vehicles and is present in 75 countries. The company employs more than 15,000 professionals and has three production centers: Barcelona, El Prat de Llobregat and Martorell. The company also has SEAT CODE, the software development center located in Barcelona.