The manufacturing industry is dirty—it’s responsible for 23% of the United States carbon emissions. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The Inflation Reduction and CHIPS acts that are now law are signifiers of the urgent national movement to reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel-driven industrial processes that pollute our planet.
While these laws provide much needed government funding and assistance, they are only part of the solution. As we continue to navigate the complex climate crisis and work toward our climate goals, manufacturers need to think critically about how they produce the components they need. The time is now for leading manufacturers to come clean with their plans to electrify before it's too late.
We need to transform manufacturing with an eye on decarbonization. We cannot simply trade one energy-inefficient process for another – but we can migrate toward a new, electrically driven generation of manufacturing technology that is better for our people and planet. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Consider Your Energy Sources
While 9 in 10 organizations say they are serious about reducing emissions, just 11% say they are meeting their emission goals, according to a 2021 global survey by Boston Consulting Group. Carbon emissions in manufacturing are directly linked to the energy consumption throughout the process chain. Thus, these emissions can be most effectively reduced by sourcing renewable energy or reducing energy consumption overall. With electric processes, including additive manufacturing, anyone using the process can choose what type of energy sources fuel it.
Migrating towards clean energy sources such as solar, wind, hydropower and nuclear is a first step towards green manufacturing. It may require that manufacturers initially pay a premium for their energy, but these energy prices are dropping quickly, and the environmental benefits are magnified especially when manufacturing in high volumes.
2. Obtain Real Measurements
A comprehensive life cycle assessment is very challenging due to the complexity of global supply chains and the lack of transparency in data. Fostering collaboration among companies to demonstrate how CO2 emissions data can be trustfully and securely exchanged along supply networks will be critical.
David Jaber, founder of Climate Positive Consulting, has worked with more than 150 companies on environmental excellence and offers this suggestion: "Make decisions with the best data you can get, respect the uncertainty and look at it as a process. Comprehensive greenhouse gas measurement provides the best snapshot that you can get of current climate reality and helps you commit to improve data quality as you move forward."
An ISO 14064 certification is a globally recognized standard that helps organizations measure, quantify and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a powerful method to understand an organization’s climate reality and begin to hit targets and validate success against carbon footprint declarations. Only 9% of organizations are able to accurately measure their emissions, and it can be tough to make a difference—and easier to ignore the harsh truth—if we don’t understand the current reality.
3. Evaluate Opportunities to Clean Up the Full Lifecycle
Additionally, those at the forefront of manufacturing should closely evaluate their material and other suppliers—and look for opportunities to switch to more sustainable practices throughout their entire production process. Titanium mining and manufacturing company IperionX is one organization doing this, developing a 100%-recycled, low-carbon titanium supply chain better by incorporating scrap recycling and raw materials and utilizing renewable energy.
A true transformation to electrification requires measured, targeted action. While many manufacturers tout social impact programs, climate efforts need to go beyond corporate social responsibility missions. Reinventing business processes for an entire industry is hard.
But it’s worth it. Sustainable, cleaner, more cost-effective manufacturing is the future of the industry and the American economy as a whole. The time is now to think critically about our energy sources and to change our collective course as an industry poised to help bring manufacturing closer to home.
James DeMuth is CEO and co-founder of Seurat Technologies. He holds a master's of science in mechanical engineering from Stanford University with a focus on energy systems and high-temperature gas dynamics, and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Santa Clara University. He has co-authored 145 patents, granted and pending, and 13 academic publications in the fields of additive manufacturing and power generation.
Prior to founding Seurat, DeMuth was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he worked on the Laser Inertial Fusion Energy project, and co-invented and developed the core of Seurat's breakthrough technology in additive manufacturing.
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