Industrial Metabolism: Materials and Energy Flow Studies

Industrial Metabolism: Materials and Energy Flow Studies

A. J.D. Lambert (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-114-8.ch002


This chapter introduces the concept of quantitative physical flow analysis, known as industrial metabolism, which is a basis for modeling the environmental impact of products in the course of their lifecycles. This also includes a discussion of the reverse product-process chain, which includes reuse and recycling. Apart from transformation of materials, also transformation of energy is discussed. This is followed by the introduction of gross energy requirement. After this, the life-cycle assessment method is explained. After this, a section on available types of software is presented, followed by some examples from practice that illustrate the value of quantitative modeling. Finally, some future trends are discussed and a conclusion is given.
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Design and management of environmentally conscious products and production processes has various aspects that require a multidisciplinary approach. As the complete life-cycle of products has to be considered for a thorough analysis, which is a prerequisite in assessing the environmental performance of a product, the problem grows still more complicated. Because dealing with all those aspects in a satisfactory way is hardly possible, we are obliged to restrict our approach to those aspects of the reality that are particularly relevant to our purposes, thus simplifying the reality by means of modeling. Such models thus do not provide us with the complete truth, but modeling opens the way toward investigating some relationships that cannot be made available by other ways.

The aspects that are highlighted in this chapter refer to the physical basis that is inherent to the production of commodities and the impact that this has on the environment. This manifests itself by the fact that the relation of the product’s life- cycle with its environment is understood in terms of materials and energy flows. In frequently used environmental analysis techniques, such as life-cycle assessment, the analysis of materials and energy flows is at the basis of these methods.

Such an approach is incorporated in industrial metabolism, which is a subdomain of industrial ecology, although some confusion on the precise use of these concepts can be detected in the literature.

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