Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Green Manufacturing News Items

I am preparing my class material for the graduate course on "Sustainable Manufacturing" I teach this fall (http://www.me.berkeley.edu/e290c/). The course attempts to do much of what this blog is aimed at - defining the key terms, understanding motivations, introducing metrics, tools and analytical techniques to assist manufacturing engineers in developing the processes and systems to implement green (at least) and eventual sustainable manufacturing. We also talk about "communicating" this information to our customers and shareholders.

I like to read a variety of information sources. And, when something is interesting or catches my eye, I present it to my class or, in this case, to the readers of the blog as constructive information. I'll do this from time to time.

As a preamble to my "selection criteria" for these articles and books, I try to make sure I am not distracted by idealistic arguments, unrealistic proposals, unfounded bias or political jingoism. I've found, after 30 years of teaching, that if you present material based on any of that the students (undergrads more aggressively than grads) will catch on early and pull at the loose threads on my cheap suit of logic until I am standing there with sleeves dangling and cloth around me on the floor. No respect for my long resume or vast experience! So, please feel to tug away if you sense some "dangling threads."

Here are a couple of recent finds in the "why green manufacturing is important" category.

The McKinsey Quarterly article "Profiting from the carbon economy" (http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Financial_Services/Banking/Profiting_from_the_low_carbon_economy_2412?gp=1) accessed August 17, 2009 discusses the opportunities presented by the carbon economy. They predict a "massive shift of industrial and financial resources. To cut emissions of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide), consumers, companies, industries, and even entire countries will have to abandon current forms of carbon-based consumption and switch to new, less-polluting alternatives. New industries will be forged, going far beyond the nascent companies we see today. New financial products and markets will be necessary to manage and transfer the risks and costs of carbon emissions. Investors and regulators will demand better information about the economic impact of climate change." Later in the article it states "Many parts of the world have begun to ask the businesses to bear the costs of the carbon emissions they create."

And the EU is moving rapidly on this. They've agreed to increase the range of industries covered by their emissions trading schemes (called ETS) and to enforce a minimum of a 21% reduction of carbon emissions (relative to 2005 levels) by 2020.

One of these days we'll look at what that really means in terms of changes to basic manufacturing and material conversion - it is not putting more insulation on the furnace or turning the lights out when we leave the shop floor! We're talking substantial changes in the way manufacturing converts and processes materials. Flat world indeed - and increasingly low carbon!

What is the takeaway here? This highlights our link - manufacturing doing what it has been doing well for centuries now being forced to include the costs of carbon emission associated with their business. Not just in the plant ... in the materials and components coming in the plant from the supply chain ... in the transportation to deliver our goods to our customer ... and so on.

This is where the next big shift in manufacturing comes from. Define the impacts, see how they are linked to our production process, machinery, plants, supply chain - and then change them, redesign them, re-organize them, and so on to reduce our risk to this "new expense." And gain competitive edge.

This will be a constant theme here.

On the other end of the equation is the technology needed to supply the growing demand for alternate energy and where we fit into that market. The Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2009, includes an article on "China's Green Revolution" by Peter Ford. The author quotes an energy legal expert at the Wilson Sonsini firm in San Francisco as saying "The rest of the world doesn't even realize we are very likely ceding the next generation of energy technology to the Chinese." He is referring to the aggressive development of energy technology to meet the impressive need for energy in China - much of this development (industrial and infrastructure) is built on forward looking government policy. This applies to the electric car sector, solar and, "clean" coal. One of the closing comments in the article includes an observation by an expert indicating that China sees this as a market not presently "claimed or controlled by any one nation" thus giving them the opportunity - using education, manufacturing technology and careful substantial capital investment.

Finally, the Economist, August 15, 2009, includes an article on "Greening the rust belt" reviewing the balance between an evolving clean energy industry and potential stifling of that due to carbon emission regulations. The concern is that the developing alternate energy business may be thwarted by the increasing regulation of carbon emissions. The midwest is specially sensitive to this (recall our discussion some blogs ago about the varying energy mix throughout the US - some states relying heavily on coal power for a large carbon dioxide to electrical power ratio). With respect to the stimulus spending in green technology, the president of a young solar power company in Toledo (and a professor to boot) comments that "... this is an investment for our economy, and our future."

And, a key part of realizing the benefits of that investment is the growth of a manufacturing technology base capable of scaling up these green sprouts using low carbon machines, processes and systems.

Finally, in the "This may interest you" department - a Webinar.

Thanks to this blog I've been getting some very interesting contacts. One, a company called Climate Earth in San Francisco (http://www.climateearth.com/), offered to allow me to use one of their regular "webinar" slots to present some of the material on "Why Green Manufacturing?" (sound familiar?!).

The details are- Date: Thursday, September 17, 2009; Time: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM PDT. Registration for the webinar is at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/187277227 and after registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar. Did I mention it was free? Hope you can join us for this.

And, I have no involvement with this company myself but one of my PhD students is working part time with them.

Two other interesting sources I've come upon since the blog began that will stimulate some discussion are "manufacturing crunch" - http://mfgcrunch.ning.com/, and "environmental leader" - http://www.environmentalleader.com/. They've both been very supportive of some of the ideas expressed in this blog.