The Energy Required to Produce Materials: Constraints on Energy Intensity Improvements, Parameters of Demand

T. G. Gutowski, S. Sahni, J. M. Allwood, M. F. Ashby, E. Worrell

In this paper, we review the energy requirements to make materials on a global scale by focusing on the five construction materials that dominate energy used in material production: steel, cement, paper, plastics and aluminium. We then estimate the possibility of reducing absolute material production energy by half, while doubling production from the present to 2050. The goal therefore is a 75 per cent reduction in energy intensity. Four technology-based strategies are investigated, regardless of cost: (i) widespread application of best available technology (BAT), (ii) BAT to cutting-edge technologies, (iii) aggressive recycling and finally, and (iv) significant improvements in recycling technologies. Taken together, these aggressive strategies could produce impressive gains, of the order of a 50–56 per cent reduction in energy intensity, but this is still short of our goal of a 75 per cent reduction. Ultimately, we face fundamental thermodynamic as well as practical constraints on our ability to improve the energy intensity of material production. A strategy to reduce demand by providing material services with less material (called ‘material efficiency’) is outlined as an approach to solving this dilemma.