MIT professor of mechanical engineering Timothy G. Gutowski is using a grant from the National Science Foundation to study energy use in manufacturing processes from machining and grinding to injection molding and microelectronics fabrication methods, according to a recent article in MIT’s “TechTalk.”
Gutowski wants to compare the environmental performance of traditional methods versus that of alternative processes and product designs and proposed new processes.
“Manufacturing processes can be thought of as products with a huge energy appetite,” said Gutowski. “Many people are not aware of the energy requirements for many manufacturing processes.”
And like SUV’s, those processes add to global warming.
Industry makes up 30 percent of the total U.S. energy use, and of that percentage, manufacturing accounts for 80 percent, the article noted.
The article also said that increased efficiency tends to decrease energy use per kilogram of product produced. According to Gutowski, efficiency and increased production go hand in hand, thus the increased production would offset gains in efficiency. “Hence, energy efficiency alone has not resulted in an absolute reduction in energy use,” he added.
Gutowski also said that “environmentally benign manufacturing” methods can vary from industry to industry. He points out that vehicles have an efficient recycling process, with only 15 percent of the vehicle winding up in a landfill.
By using lightweight composites instead of steel, cars would be lighter and more fuel efficient, but that solution would cause more problems for other areas. Those composite materials are not recyclable, have no recycling methods being developed for the near future, and increase manufacturing costs.
For microelectronics, computers are used for only two to three years and have a low recycling rate. Moreover, the process of manufacturing integrated circuits uses ultrapure materials and energy-intensive processes.
Gutowski hopes that problems like those can be surmounted via “the development of new technologies, the creation of new policies and the public’s willingness to foster change and absorb some of the costs.”
“People will pay more in the short run for environmentally friendly products,” he added. “There will be a cost to this, but I don’t think it will be something we can’t manage.”