Earth Day is a great reminder of the importance of caring for the environment, but in addition to April 22, the Department of Energy (DOE) works year round to address climate change issues and ensure energy security for the U.S. While conscientious energy use is critical to addressing threats from climate change, the issue can be more complicated than just increasing efficiency in energy-intensive sectors like manufacturing. The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) is adapting life cycle thinking and methodologies to materials and energy issues to provide a better understanding of the net energy impact of technology investments in manufacturing. AMO’s approach to life cycle analysis includes a cross-sectoral assessment of energy requirements of the materials, manufacture, transport, use/re-use, and end of life of a product. This helps guide research into solutions that minimize negative impacts across all stages of the life cycle.
Looking at the bigger picture helps identify the entire supply chain that takes raw materials and eventually converts them to consumer products and ultimately the disposal, reuse, or recycling of all or parts of that end product. By carefully accounting for all the energy implications that result from making and using products, we can better understand the net impact on our energy economy. The evaluation of manufacturing processes alone can miss critical opportunities to identify transformative alternative such as recyclable feedstocks, alternative materials options, and other solutions that can increase our economic, environmental, and social sustainability.
LED lighting is a great example of how life cycle energy analysis can help identify technologies with net energy savings. While LED lights consume more energy during manufacturing compared to traditional light bulbs, they actually consume less energy during the use phase across a variety of sectors including industrial, commercial, residential, transportation applications. The end result is a net energy savings over the life of the bulb. The balance between energy in the manufacturing and use phases is important to characterize and quantify, and detailed analyses help understand the trade-offs between technology options, and provide insights as to where to focus efforts to provide the greatest net benefits.
Life cycle thinking can help identify opportunities beyond the plant boundaries. Around 40% to 60% of a manufacturer’s energy and carbon foot print can reside upstream in its supply chain, but coordinated energy management practices with all members of the supply chain can help increase energy efficiency, reduce costs, and reduce the environmental impact of a product. AMO helps manufacturers play an active role in the reduction of life cycle energy use through programs like the Better Plants Supply Chain Initiative. In line with life cycle methodologies, the Supply Chain Initiative helps partners of DOE’s Better Plants program set and achieve ambitious energy savings targets within their supply chain, a practice that reduces environmental impact throughout the product life cycle and keeps U.S. manufacturers competitive in the global marketplace. The Supply Chain Initiative also leverages the support of AMO’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) to identify energy savings opportunities while also training the next generation of energy-savvy engineers.
Applying life cycle energy methodologies is crucial to the research, development, and deployment of sustainable manufacturing solutions. DOE’s Quadrennial Technology Review provides more information on the assessment of energy technologies and research opportunities in advanced manufacturing.