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Remanufacturing: Does It Actually Use More Energy?

Posted By Jeff Moad, May 23, 2011 at 11:39 AM, in Category: Sustainability

Remanufacturing products--as opposed to manufacturing products new from scratch--saves energy and represents a more sustainable option. This would seem to be an intuitively obvious statement. A new research report out of MIT, however, concludes that, for many types of products, this is not the case. In fact, says the report, remanufacturing products often leads to higher energy costs than producing new products.

The study team, led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Timothy Gutlowski, compared the energy used by new and remanufactured products over their full lifecycles, not just during the manufacturing phase. The study found that many remanufactured products turn out to be less energy efficient to operate than new products. This often cancels out the energy savings realized from starting with a recycled core product in the manufacturing stage, the report found.

The MIT researchers studied 25 different products. Remanufacturing lead to higher energy costs in half of the products studied, while it lead to lower energy usage in half.

The study found the operation of many remanufactured products less energy efficent compared to new products. A remanufactured electric motor, for example, is typically .5% to 1% less efficient than a new motor. And, in some cases, technology advances make newly-designed products more energy efficient to operate than remanufactured products, the study found. Products that use little or no energy to operate--furniture, for example--do deliver energy savings when remanufactured, the study found.

One criticism of the study was that it looked primarily at consumer products rather than industrial equipment, infrastructure, or other manufactured products.

The study's authors also acknowledge that remanufacturing can lead to sustainability benefits other than energy savings. Less material ending up in landfills would be one example.

What do you think? Does it make sense that many remanufactured products are actually less energy efficient over their lifecycles? Is your company engaged in remanufacturing? If so, do you claim sustainability benefits?

Category: Sustainability
Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit


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