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Sustainable Manufacturing - What would Make a big enough difference?

"Sustainable Manufacturing" is an ideal to which consumers, politicians and business leaders increasingly aspire.  Attempts to move towards this ideal have to date largely been limited to changes that are cost-neutral and do not change the customer proposition of goods or services.  Accordingly they make rather small differences to the various impacts included within the "sustainability" bucket.  What would make a big difference?

This talk will start by reviewing our recently completed project "Well Dressed?" which examined the options for major change in the fashion industry. This was the first attempt to explore the changes required to transform a whole sector towards sustainability, and concluded that biggest effects would occur if driven by radical changes in consumer behavior.  However, the project also showed that "sustainability" is an unreachable goal with unlimited measurement options, and that "manufacturing" is not a sufficiently broad area in which to make the required changes. Accordingly our work has moved towards "Engineering for a Low Carbon Future" - a wider range of solutions to a narrower target.

The second part of the talk will therefore examine the engineering options for change to global carbon emissions. The need for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change is now widely agreed, but the means to achieve it is highly uncertain.  One politically popular approach is the dream of a carbon free energy supply, but providing this either by renewables, nuclear power, or carbon capture and storage requires an unprecedented scale of investment and construction.  In parallel, step change reductions in energy demand must be made, but it is currently difficult to identify where sufficiently big differences can be made.  The talk will present a top-down analysis of global energy use to direct attention to the big opportunities for energy efficiency.  In particular, the talk will show that emissions from industry are dominated by production of five key materials (cement, steel, plastic, paper and aluminium) and will discuss the options for cutting these emissions in the face of likely demand growth.

The talk will conclude by examining the measurement needs that will drive change towards both a low carbon and a more sustainable future.  European developments are being directed very strongly by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), but this has several problems which will be discussed.  Bottom-up approaches to measurement (such as LCA) will be contrasted with top-down approaches.  In particular the likelihood that different measurement techniques will direct efforts to make a big enough difference will be evaluated.

Julian Allwood's work spans innovative metal forming technologies and low carbon manufacturing. The first 10 years of his career were funded by contracts with the Alcoa Technical Center in Pittsburgh, working on the modeling and control of hot and cold flat rolling. In 1996 he was appointed as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Imperial College, and moved to the University of Cambridge in 2000. 

His current research group has parallel interests in developing innovative metal forming processes and exploring the systems and technologies of sustainable manufacturing.

He is secretary to the scientific technical committee on metal forming of the CIRP, and since 2007 he has been joint editor-in-chief of the Journal of Materials Processing Technology. In 2008 he was awarded a 5-year EPSRC Leadership Fellowship to lead a £3.5m project on the global carbon emissions targets for steel and aluminium.

Created May 4, 2009, Updated November 9, 2016