Beatrice Smyth

Queen’s University Belfastsean-mcloone-queenslandscapelogocolour

Topic:

Tackling energy and emissions over the supply chain.

Synopsis:

High performance materials are typically associated with large complex global supply chains in which energy and emissions intensive production processes are required. Strategies to reduce carbon footprint cannot be developed in isolation. The interdependencies between emissions, energy, assembly, labour and cost require interdisciplinary analysis to evaluate manufacturing processes and redesign supply chains to be economically, technically and environmentally effective.

4 Takeaways:

  • High performance materials are associated with complex global supply chains
  • Carbon footprint cannot be seen in isolation
  • The interplay between emissions, energy use, labour and cost should be considered at each stage of the supply chain
  • Interdisciplinary thinking is required

Submission:

In the manufacturing industry, there is increasing focus on carbon footprint, which is typically expressed in terms of the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions emitted per unit of production. The carbon footprint of a product is generally reported as a static output at the end point of the production process, but, for the analysis to be of any real benefit in driving emissions reduction, the carbon footprint needs to be disaggregated across the supply chain so that carbon hotspots can be identified and managed. The drive to reduce carbon cannot, however, be seen in isolation. The interplay between emissions, energy use, labour and cost all need to be considered at each stage of the supply chain and overall.

In exploring these ideas, we investigated the manufacture of a large structural component in the aerospace sector and options for reducing emissions over its supply chain. A carbon analysis of the production of a composite upper wing cover of an idealised single aisle aircraft identified the dominant production processes as carbon fibre manufacture and composite part manufacture. Electricity was the largest contributor to each of these steps, and was responsible for 55% of overall emissions. The base case analysis assumed production took place in the UK, while scenario analyses considered outsourcing production to countries with lower electricity grid emissions. Moving production to Sweden, the country with the lowest greenhouse gas intensity of electricity in the EU, could reduce the emissions intensity of production by half – but the additional transportation required would lead to an increase in the overall energy footprint of production.

In fact, even switching to a low-carbon fuel while maintaining production in the UK might not provide a long term solution to reducing carbon footprint. This is due to possible future regulatory and legislative changes. Japan, a country with a large share of the global carbon fibre production capacity, is a case in point. Before the Fukushima accident in 2011, Japan’s electricity mix was heavily reliant on nuclear power and had as a result a low emissions intensity. However, following the accident there was a move away from nuclear back to fossil fuels, and the emissions intensity of grid electricity rose from 350 gCO2e/kWh to almost 500 gCO2e/kWh in less than three years. A robust long term solution for emissions reduction must therefore also involve strategies to decrease energy use in the manufacturing process. Any changes to the manufacturing process need to be designed in the context of assembly and labour requirements, as these are key factors in determining costings and have a considerable impact on overall company profitability. With the aim of tackling and optimising emissions, energy and cost across the manufacturing supply chain, we are currently combining discrete event simulations with carbon and energy footprint life cycle analysis techniques in virtual environments.

High performance materials are typically associated with large complex global supply chains in which energy and emissions intensive production processes are required. Strategies to reduce carbon footprint cannot be developed in isolation. The interdependencies between emissions, energy, assembly, labour and cost require interdisciplinary analysis to evaluate manufacturing processes and redesign supply chains to be economically, technically and environmentally effective.

Acknowledgements: Dr Adelaide Marzano, Professor Adrian Murphy, and Dr Joe Butterfield, School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast.

About Beatrice Smyth:

Beatrice is a lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Queenís University Belfast, and is part of the Clean Energies Research Group. Specific areas of work include analysis and optimisation of energy pathways, supply chain energy and carbon impacts, resource quantification and mapping, life cycle analyses, land use change and economic assessment. The production and use of biomethane as a renewable fuel is a particular area of interest, as is the interplay between systems, such as the use of energy crops for wastewater treatment.

Prior to moving to Queenís in 2013, Beatrice worked in both the public and private sectors, mainly in energy/carbon management and in geotechnical and environmental engineering.

Contacting Beatrice Smyth:

http://www.qub.ac.uk/

You can contact Beatrice by email or see her work here.

 

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