Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

Materials Selection for Energy-efficient Systems

Presented by Dr. John R. Abelson, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Co-Director, Energy and Sustainability Engineering (EaSE) Initiative, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Oct 24, 2011

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Technologies have traditionally been designed to achieve high performance at low production cost. The viewpoints of energy efficiency and sustainability introduce new questions: how much energy is required to deliver the materials from the mine to the product? How much energy does the system consume during its lifetime? And can the materials be reused or recycled at end-of-life rather than wasted in a landfill? Quantitative answers to these questions are needed in order to make design decisions that improve the sustainability of future technologies. We describe the method of materials selection in terms of embodied and use energy, and end-of-life energy credits, as developed by MF Ashby. Data are taken from the comprehensive CES-Granta database, which includes over 2900 materials. We show that the major target for improvement varies widely depending on the application: for static systems the energy content of the materials usually dominates, and for systems that involve transportation, heating or cooling the energy consumption during use tends to dominate. Architectural examples are often in-between. The methods described in this talk have general applicability and lend themselves to rapid estimates, such that significant improvements can be made during the product design stage.

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