Sustainable Materials for Industry and Manufacturing

One of the central goals of ‘Industry 4.0’ is improving sustainability in practice. The proposed ways of achieving this are endless: increased adaptation of automation and ‘smart’ feedback technologies, innovative material with reduced carbon footprints, and better characterization and analysis tools for evaluating whether new ‘green’ materials are truly sustainable.1

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Moving towards ‘net zero’ goals of no net carbon dioxide emissions has become a priority of governments worldwide, who have begun to introduce legislation to encourage manufacturers and industries to change their practice and adapt to a more sustainable approach.2

A key concept in sustainability practice is the idea of the ‘circular economy.’ A truly circular economy generates no waste as all products can be reused as starting materials for a process or as feedstocks for another process.3 The circular economy is an appealing concept as it reduces stress on finite natural resources while simultaneously dealing with the mounting problem of environmental waste – a problem of particular concern for materials such as plastics with long environmental persistence and the potential impact of microplastic waste on the environment, animal and human health.4

Reduction of energy usage is also a very hot topic in industry. With the current energy crisis, increasing energy unit costs and threats to the stability of energy supplies in many countries, minimizing energy consumption has never been more important from a financial or environmental perspective.

The big question now is how to achieve all these goals, particularly in the still-growing construction sector.5 Construction is a significant contributor to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and is also typically very energy intensive.

The environmental and energy footprint of the construction industry comes from a number of places. First is the manufacture or extraction of raw construction materials and the costs associated with their transport. Then, there is the energy consumption involved with the construction processes itself, as well as any environmental damage related to the generation of dust and the impact of heavy machinery. Finally, there is the impact of the running and operation of the building through aspects such as heating, lighting and ventilation.

What Are Sustainable Materials?

What is the answer then to the growing sustainability issue faced by the construction industries and many other manufacturing and industrial processes? One potential solution to the myriad of problems faced with addressing sustainability comes in the development of new, sustainable materials.

Sustainable materials may be materials created from renewable sources or refactored waste products rather than those manufactured from petrochemical sources, which account for most of our current chemical production. Other examples of sustainable materials, particularly in construction, could be replacements for steel standards in the form of new alloys. Such alloys can offer equivalent or superior mechanical performance to existing steels but are more lightweight, so they reduce the need for as much concrete and supporting construction.

One challenge for researchers developing new materials is how to evaluate them, both in terms of analyzing the chemical composition and structure, and how to assess and compare the sustainability of such material.

Achieving this means using a range of analytical techniques and instrumentation. For metal alloys, methods such as X-Ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), inductively coupled plasma (ICP) analysis, and energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy are commonly used. For polymers and other products, mass spectrometry-based methods are very useful techniques, with methods like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) being very useful tools for analyzing possible gas emissions into the local environment.

Quantifying material composition is vital for understanding how and why a material behaves as it does. It is also important to establish comparative values that can be used to determine whether a new material with desirable properties is truly more sustainable than others.

Importance of Collaboration

The question of how to evaluate and establish benchmarks, guidelines and actionable legislation for sustainable materials is crucial to address and is one of the main tracks at Pittcon. Dr. Matthew Glasscott will be hosting a session that welcomes international experts on ‘Sustainable Construction Materials’ as part of the Pittcon conference.

Dr. Glasscott is an expert in environmental analysis and will be speaking alongside Dr. Chris Suiter (NIST), Dr. Judith Vidal (National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)), Dr. Paul Kempler (University of Oregon, Oregon Center for Electrochemistry) and Dr. Mo Li (University of California Irvine) on how analytical methods, models and tools can help address sustainability issues associated with materials in the construction industry. To find more information about this event, please click here.

Pittcon, an international conference and trade show, is a long-established event dedicated to bringing experts together across many disciplines covered by analytical technologies for sustainable industrial development.

With conference sessions dedicated to encouraging collaboration among experts with a range of backgrounds, Pittcon is the ideal place to find out new strategies for analyzing and assessing the sustainability of materials as well as recent and upcoming changes in legislation around sustainability.

To find out more about Pittcon, as well as details on how you can register, the homepage can be found here. Information on the conference schedule and details of all speakers can be found in the Technical Program.

References and Further Reading

  1. Tseng, M. L., Tran, T. P. T., Ha, H. M., Bui, T. D., & Lim, M. K. (2021). Sustainable industrial and operation engineering trends and challenges Toward Industry 4.0: a data driven analysis. Journal of Industrial and Production Engineering, 38(8), 581–598. https://doi.org/10.1080/21681015.2021.1950227
  2. Sartal, A., Bellas, R., Mejías, A. M., & García-Collado, A. (2020). The sustainable manufacturing concept, evolution and opportunities within Industry 4.0: A literature review. Advances in Mechanical Engineering, 12(5). https://doi.org/10.1177/1687814020925232
  3. Hossain, M. U., Ng, S. T., Antwi-Afari, P., & Amor, B. (2020). Circular economy and the construction industry: Existing trends, challenges and prospective framework for sustainable construction. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 130(October 2019), 109948. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2020.109948
  4. Narancic, T., & O’Connor, K. E. (2019). Plastic waste as a global challenge: Are biodegradable plastics the answer to the plastic waste problem? Microbiology, 165(2), 129–137. https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.000749
  5. Onat, N. C., & Kucukvar, M. (2020). Carbon footprint of construction industry: A global review and supply chain analysis. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 124, 109783. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2020.109783

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This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Pittcon.

For more information on this source, please visit Pittcon.

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