Environmental analysis of manufacturing processes – efficiency falls as technology advances

Posted on May 3, 2009. Filed under: environment, manufacturing, nanotechnology | Tags: , |

A multi-year MIT study funded by the National Science Foundation shows that, for industrial manufacturing, more advanced technologies are less efficient in their use of energy and materialsper kilogram of output than older technologies. 

The MIT team surveyed twenty manufacturing techniques, and used a framework, based on the laws of thermodynamics, to keep track of the energetic, as well as the physical or chemical, transformations of materials as they pass through the stepsof an industrial process.   They found that as processes become more technologically sophisticated, they tend to manipulate smaller and smaller quantities of material at slower rates, but power consumption per process stays about the same, leading to a noticeable increase in the amount of energy needed to produce a given quantity of final product.

To date there haven’t been strong incentives to reduce energy consumption, but that may be changing, according to the NSF summary. –nks

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