The US finally joined Lego-land this week when the iconic Danish toymaker tapped the State of Virginia to host its first ever factory in the country. The Lego Group already makes solar-themed kits with its iconic bricks, but this time it’s for real: the new factory will sport an on-site solar power plant big enough to match its entire electricity demand.
Solar Power Vs. Wind Power On The Atlantic Coast
Lego staked out its initial clean tech reputation more than 10 years ago with a focus on wind power, so those of you familiar with the geography of the US may be wondering why offshore wind is not front and center for the company’s foray into Virginia, which sits on the wind-rich waters of the Atlantic Coast.
Good question! Offshore wind development along the Atlantic appeared poised for takeoff during the Obama administration, only to meet a series of roadblocks partly on account of the political situation in several coastal states. The bottleneck has finally broken wide open and Virginia is among the frontrunners, but offshore wind at scale is still a number of years in the future.
The solar power picture is more of a here-and-now situation. Virginia already rates an impressive #10 for installed PV capacity on the 50-state rankings compiled by the Solar Energy Industries Association, with 3,790 megawatts worth of solar power already in the ground and another 4,135 megawatts projected in the pipeline over the next five years.
More Solar Power For More Factories
The new Lego announcement provides the PV industry in Virginia with a high profile example of the power of renewables to attract new business.
“The location in Virginia allows us to build a solar park which supports our sustainability ambitions and provides easy links to country-wide transportation networks. We are also looking forward to creating fantastic employment opportunities for the people of Virginia,” enthused Lego Group CEO Niels B. Christiansen.
To be clear, the new $1 billion factory will not run exclusively on solar power. It is designed as a carbon-neutral facility that will match its energy needs to the output from the onsite array, meaning that non-renewable resources will still have role to play in running the factory. Still, it’s a strong start, and Lego aims to minimize the use of non-renewables by conforming the new factory to LEED Gold energy efficiency standards.
Lego Takes On Recycled Plastic Challenge
Lego has also been turning its attention to plastic recycling, which befits its position as a manufacturer singularly dependent on high performance plastics.
Plastic recycling can really use a helping hand. The field has been a disaster for generations, with the global recycling rate still moping around in the single digits despite years of regulatory and voluntary efforts. Among other disincentives, new plastic items made from old plastic typically don’t perform as well as virgin plastic.
More recently, researchers have begun to figure out how to deconstruct plastic waste and reassemble it for performance metrics that meet, or potentially beat, virgin plastic. Lego has invested significant dollars in that effort.
“A team of more than 150 people are working to find sustainable solutions for LEGO products,” the company explained in a press release last year. “Over the past three years, materials scientists and engineers tested over 250 variations of PET materials and hundreds of other plastic formulations. The result is a prototype that meets several of their quality, safety and play requirements – including clutch power.”