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The Global Manufacturer: Saving the World One Motor at a Time

Jan. 15, 2013
A new report says information and communications technology has the potential to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing.

At a Chinese pharmaceutical company, an energy audit revealed that the cooling system was consuming over 2 million kWh per year, about 13% of the plant's electricity consumption. The plant invested $145,000 in two new pumps that utilized variable speed control and cleaned ductwork to minimize friction losses. The changes reduced electricity consumption 49% in the water cooling system and had a payback time of 1.8 years.

In the U.S., a textile company installed 15 variable speed drives on fans in the ventilation system. The new drives reduced the ventilation system's electricity demand by 59% and the $130,000 investment was recouped in 1.3 years.

These are just two examples of how smarter technology can help reduce manufacturing's contribution to global emissions, says the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) report, "SMARTer 2020," produced by the Boston Consulting Group.

See Also: Global Manufacturing Economy Trends & Analysis

The report estimates that increased use of information and communication technology (ICT) could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5% by 2020, a figure that would save $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings. That is a 16% improvement over the estimates from the "SMART 2020" report issued just four years ago. The potential reduction of 9.1 gigatons carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) is more than the current annual CO2 emissions of the U.S.

The new report acknowledges that ICT is a growing contributor to GHG emissions, with associated emissions rising from 0.53 GtCO2e in 2002 to an estimated 1.27 GtCO2e by 2020. That means ICT will produce 2.3% of global emissions by 2020. But the report estimates that fuller use of ICT would result in abating seven times that amount of emissions. Moreover, the sector has a good track record in saving energy, with savings coming from shifts such as the adoption of smartphones and tablets rather than using more energy-intensive PCs.

The study examines how ICT-enabled solutions could reduce energy consumption across six industry sectors: agriculture and land use, buildings, consumer and service, manufacturing, power and transportation. The solutions range from the adoption of cloud computing and video conferencing to smart electricity grids and intelligent building management systems.

Manufacturers Face Challenge in Reducing Emissions

Manufacturing is the most significant of the sector contributors to GHG emissions, the report states, accounting for 31.4% of total emissions in 2008. Those emissions are expected to rise in total volume but remain constant as a percentage of the world total by 2020.

"High rates of manufacturing growth in the developing world, where emissions targets are often lax or nonexistent, are pushing emissions rates higher," the report states. "Increased demand for manufactured goods is overcoming any process efficiency gains." Moreover, the report states, global competition and a lack of economic incentives have made "emissions reductions challenging for many manufacturers."

The two major areas the report identifies for manufacturing energy savings are through the (1) automation of industrial processes and the (2) optimization of variable speed motor systems. Automation would bring energy savings, but it doesn't necessarily bode well for employment. As the report points out, with increased automation, there is also a "decreased utilization of personnel resources and greater use of machines controlled by ICT devices."

The optimization of variable speed motor systems would provide nearly as much energy savings, the report notes, particularly in developing economies such as China. 

"Motor systems are at the heart of the industrial activity and consume the majority of electricity used by manufacturers worldwide," the GeSI report says. Variable speed motors, it points out, allow machines to "sense the strain under which they are working and adjust output accordingly. This ensures that they are working hard and expending electricity only when necessary."

The report says adoption of 3D printing could also save energy. "3D printing has the potential to be disruptive to the entire manufacturing process and could reduce emissions by reducing the amount of raw materials to create a product and removing the need for transport of end-products," it states.

See also: Additive Manufacturing

Many U.S. manufacturers have shown a real appetite for energy efficiency, but in order for emissions to be reduced globally, the report advocates "more and effective government policies that reward such action and penalize delayed responses." 

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