Along with experts from 25 other universities, 44 companies, seven national labs, and 26 industry trade associations and foundations, researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) will play a pivotal role in a new U.S.-funded consortium that will aim to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s industrial manufacturing processes by 50 percent by 2027, the university announced on February 8.
If that goal is realized, the consortium – called the Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute and based at the Rochester Institute of Technology – would help U.S. industry save billions of dollars in energy costs and reduce overall environmental impacts.
Specifically, the institute will focus on driving down the costs of technologies needed to reuse, recycle and remanufacture materials – such as metals, fibers, polymers and electronic waste. It is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing USA initiative.
For Yale researchers, it will present an opportunity to build upon years of previous research into the lifecycles of metals and other resources, done by the F&ES-based Center for Industrial Ecology (CIE) — and to work with a wide range of partners from academia, industry, and government.
U.S. manufacturing accounts for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s total annual energy use, according to the Department of Energy. The physical products that are created as a result of manufacturing embody most of that energy. The research and deployment of cost-effective technologies that could reduce the energy used in materials production could offer energy savings of up to 1.6 quadrillion BTU annually nationwide, DOE said .– more than the electricity, oil and other energy consumed by New Hampshire, Hawaii, Delaware, Rhode Island, Washington, D.C. and Vermont combined.
Extracting raw materials like steel and aluminum for manufacturing is energy intensive, as is the manufacturing process used to make products with these materials. By facilitating the use of recycling and remanufacturing (the rebuilding of original products using a combination of reused or recycled parts) technologies, the Institute will dramatically reduce life-cycle energy consumption for products and improve overall manufacturing efficiencies. The focus also includes new ways for information collecting; gathering, identification and sorting of end-of-life and waste materials; separating mixed materials; removal of trace contaminants and robust and cost-effective reprocessing and disposal methods.
REMADE will leverage up to $70 million in federal funding, subject to appropriations, and will be matched by $70 million in private cost-share commitments from over 100 partners, the DOE said last month.
Five research nodes
The consortium will be broken into five research “nodes.” While the first four groups will tackle efficiency questions related to four distinct areas — industrial design, material optimization, remanufacturing, and recycling of materials, respectively — the fifth group, led by Yale researchers, will provide an ongoing systems analysis on how all these different systems can be integrated to achieve greater efficiency.
“This partnership will offer an exciting opportunity for our school to be at the forefront of this critically important and growing field of knowledge,” said Barbara Reck, a research scientist at F&ES, who will lead the group.
“Our group will provide the big-picture perspective by providing the reference data for measuring efficiency gains in materials and energy use. In doing so, our research will identify valuable resources to be recovered from used products and guide the technological development in identifying technologies that have the largest potential energy savings.”
The deputy lead of the Yale-led group will be Thomas Graedel, a professor emeritus of Industrial Ecology and former director of the CIE who for more than 15 years has led Yale’s ongoing research into the lifecycle of global metals resources, from mining to recycling.
That research has provided important insights into the sustainability of the planet’s metal resources, from common metals such as copper and zinc to the rare materials that have become critical components of modern products, from medical equipment to smartphones.
Initially, Yale researchers will focus on two specific projects. In one, led by Reck and Graedel, they will characterize the life cycles of metals, polymers, and fibers to illustrate the supply chains of these materials; and conduct scenarios on their supply and demand ten years out to learn, for example, about the composition and magnitude of future recycling flows.
The second project, conducted by Edgar Hertwich, a professor of Industrial Ecology at F&ES and CIE director, will work with researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara to provide the methodology and data for harmonized life cycle assessments that will make applying this tool much simpler for industry partners.
“In the past, the role of materials has often been ignored,” said Hertwich. “Materials cause energy demand and pollution but contribute tremendously to well-being and offer technological solutions to sustainability challenges. We are looking forward to tackling this challenge together with our industry and research partners.”
Throughout the initiative, Yale researchers will indeed cooperate with and leverage knowledge from industry leaders, including those involved at every step of the lifecycle process, from mining of materials to the materials recyclers. In fact, some of those collaborators will serve as partners in the REMADE initiative.
“One of the most exciting parts of this set of partnerships is that it will present a unique opportunity to integrate our expertise across multiple perspectives — industry, education, and scholarship — and disciplines,” said F&ES Dean Indy Burke.
While the DOE grant will help support the institute for the first five years, the ultimate goal is for the REMADE Institute to become permanent and self-supporting.