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Air pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with sunlight to form smog. Smog has been linked to a number of health issues and is particularly prevalent in dense urban areas with heavy traffic, industrial activity, and sunny, warm climates.

Toyota has targets that span the vehicle life cycle to reduce emissions of these air pollutants. During the design and development phase, we work on reducing emissions of air pollutants from tailpipe exhaust and from materials used in the vehicle cabin. During the production process, we focus on reducing emissions from painting operations. We have made progress in each of these areas over the last five years.

Partnerships have played key roles in our success. Toyota’s suppliers are helping us identify materials that emit lower levels of cabin VOCs, as well as paints and paint technologies that reduce VOC emissions. We are also helping others develop innovative technologies that may one day be useful in our own operations. One example is Toyota’s partnership with Alabama A&M University, described in more detail below. We are donating used cooking oil to the university to convert into biodiesel. We hope to find applications for the biodiesel in our own operations in the future.

Our performance in the areas of reducing tailpipe emissions, designing vehicles using ultra low emission technologies, reducing VOCs in vehicle cabins and reducing VOCs from painting activities is discussed in this chapter.

Since September 2010, more than 220 gallons of used cooking oil have been delivered from the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville, Alabama, to a lab at Alabama A&M University as part of a biodiesel donation program. The Huntsville plant, which builds V6 and V8 engines for Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks and Sequoia full-size sport utility vehicles, donates between 55 and 100 gallons of cooking oil per month to the university. The waste oil from the plant’s cafeteria, along with oil from other sources, is being converted into biodiesel—and the fuel is expected to someday run buses on A&M’s campus as well as other equipment.

Some of the leftover oil has already been converted to biodiesel and tested in a private vehicle. The biodiesel will soon be tested further, to see how it performs fueling the engines of a small tractor and irrigation pumps. Toyota executives have also asked that diesel shunt trucks and a diesel generator at the Huntsville plant be used to test the fuel.

Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning alternative fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources such as plant oils from crops like corn and soybeans, animal fats, used cooking oil and even new sources such as algae. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at various levels with petroleum to create a biodiesel blend that works in diesel engines with few modifications. There are significant benefits to air quality from developing transportation systems that run on biodiesel or biodiesel blends. When compared to burning diesel as a fuel, burning biodiesel results in lower exhaust emissions of the pollutants that form smog and ozone (hydrocarbons) and acid rain (sulfur oxides and sulfates).

Toyota personnel are also exploring the possibility of using byproducts from the biodiesel refining process to create other products, such as soaps, that could be used at the Toyota plant. If that happens, we could create a completely closed-loop sustainable system through the biodiesel donation program.

Photo of man in laboratory.
Dr. Ernst Cebert of Alabama A&M University’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences conducts a visual test on biodiesel to check for clarity. Toyota is a partner with the university in its biodiesel research project.

The state of California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency each has their own certification programs to categorize vehicles in terms of their level of tailpipe emissions (Canada and the U.S. have equivalent standards). In California, the Low-Emission Vehicle II (LEV II) regulations categorize vehicles as LEV (Low Emission Vehicle), ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle), SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle), ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle), or AT-PZEV (Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle). In the U.S. and Canada, vehicles are categorized into Tier 2 Bins one through eight. Lower bin numbers correspond to vehicles with lower tailpipe emissions; Bin 1 is for vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions.

In 2011, the California LEV II regulations required an auto manufacturer’s fleet average to meet an emission standard for nonmethane organic gas (NMOG) of 0.035 grams per mile (gpm) for passenger cars and light-duty trucks up to 3,750 pounds, and 0.043 for other light-duty trucks. The federal programs in both the U.S. and Canada require a manufacturer’s fleet average to meet a Tier 2 NOx standard of 0.07 gpm. Toyota annually complies with the state of California, U.S. and Canadian federal vehicle emissions programs, and we have met the standards for the 2011 model year. (Target 10.1)

Toyota continues to introduce low emission vehicles using a variety of ultra low emissions technologies. (Target 10.3) All Toyota, Lexus and Scion passenger cars (except the Lexus LFA) currently sold in North America are rated ULEV or better.

List of Toyota and Lexus SULEV vehicles

Over the years, Toyota has been recognized as an industry leader in the manufacture of vehicles with good fuel economy and exhaust emission performance. For example, Toyota has demonstrated exemplary in-use compliance in the mandatory In-Use Verification Program (IUVP) required by the U.S. EPA and the California Air Resources Board. We tested 120 vehicles in FY2011, for a total of over 1,300 vehicles since 2000. (Target 10.2)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from materials in the vehicle interior after manufacturing, commonly recognized as the “new car smell.” These materials include plastics, leather textiles, glues, sealants and additives. We work with our suppliers to develop alternatives that emit lower levels of VOCs in the vehicle cabin.

Over the last five years, we have made progress on developing such alternatives. (Target 9.4) For example, we worked with our suppliers to develop new tape systems to reduce toluene emissions. More recently, we have been working with our suppliers on reducing formaldehyde and acetaldehyde that form during leather retanning and finishing.

Auto manufacturers are working toward one global standard to test emissions of VOCs in vehicle cabins at the component level. In the meantime, a voluntary standard for the full vehicle exists from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA). Toyota believes this standard addresses compounds readily found in vehicle cabins. For the 2011 model year, the North American-produced Sienna, Avalon, Corolla, Venza and Highlander conform to this standard.

Within Toyota’s facilities, painting operations generate the majority of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We have a North American Manufacturing VOC Working Group that studies aspects of the painting process to find ways to reduce VOC emissions. We look at painting operations as a whole, as well as the components of the process to find big and small ways to kaizen. We benefit from sharing best practices and transfer of knowledge, or yokoten, from one plant to the next.

Toyota’s North American plants measure grams VOCs emitted per square meter of vehicle surface area coated (g/m2). We set a target to achieve a corporate average of 14.0 g/m2 by FY2011. We achieved this target in FY2008, and continued to meet the target in FY2011 with an average of 13.2 g/m2 (please see Figure S). (Target 11.1)

Figure S VOC Emissions of Vehicle Surface Area

In addition to vehicle painting, we also paint exterior plastics fascia, which are mostly bumpers. VOC emissions from plastics painting operations are currently tracked and measured against internal plant targets. (Target 11.2)

In early 2000, Toyota began investing in waterborne paint systems at a number of our paint shops across North America as a way to reduce VOC emissions. We have installed waterborne systems at many of our plants, including our newest plants in Woodstock and Blue Springs. Since 2009, we have also used waterborne paint systems at all vehicle distribution centers with paint operations.

Despite the downward turn in the economy over the last few years, we continue to improve our painting technology and look for kaizens that will lead to additional VOC emission reductions. VOC emission reduction activities in North America over the last five years have included:

  • Block painting vehicles of the same color, which reduces the frequency of line/applicator cleaning and, therefore, the volume of cleaning or purge solvent used.
  • Reducing the amount of solvent used to purge and clean the paint spray applicators.
  • Introduction of lower VOC-content cleaning solvents.
  • Removing edge coat paint from wheels that did not require it.