Small products, big energy gluttons

A microscope at a nanotechnology lab

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: A House panel is taking up the issue of energy efficiency this week.
Major focus will be how much power manufactures use. Turns out there's a lot of room for improvement, according to a new study from MIT. Marketplace's Janet Babin reports from the Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio:


Janet Babin: Over the past 50 years, we've figured out how to make smaller and smaller products, from semi-conductor chips to ultra-tiny nano-devices. As products shrunk, manufacturing processes improved.

But energy efficiency didn't follow. Modern manufacturing methods use up more energy than old-school factories. That according to MIT professor Timothy Gutowski:

Timothy Gutowski: Their energy intensity is on the order of 1,000 and as high as a million times more energy intensive than our old-time conventional manufacturing processes.

Gutowski analyzed 20 manufacturing systems, from a cast-iron foundry to carbon nano-fiber production. All of them were energy gluttons.

The reason? Fuel and electricity are cheap. He says efficiency will happen on its own if energy prices rise, or if government imposes stricter efficiency standards -- something Congress may consider this week.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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