A comparative thermodynamic evaluation of bioethanol processing from wheat straw

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The thermodynamic implications of different bioethanol production routes from wheat straw (a cellulosic co-product or ‘waste’ stream) have been evaluated. Comparative thermodynamic (energy and exergy) analysis gives rise to alternative insights into the relative performance of various process chains. Energy analysis of four different production paths were firstly analysed via the consideration of mechanical work, temperature changes and separating techniques. The Net Energy Value (NEV) of each production path or route was then evaluated, including the effect of system boundary expansion. In contrast, the thermodynamic property known as ‘exergy’ reflects the ability of undertake ‘useful work’, but does not represent well heating processes. Exergetic efficiencies were consequently obtained via chemical and physical exergy calculations, along with some of the electrical inputs to the different processes. The exergetic ’improvement potentials’ of the process stages were then determined using the exergetic efficiencies and irreversibility values respectively. These estimates will enable industrialists and policy makers to take account of some of the ramifications of alternative bioethanol production routes in a low carbon future.


Bioethanol production
Wheat straw
Biofuel blends
Thermodynamic analysis

Is sharing the solution? Exploring public acceptability of the sharing economy

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Advocated as a solution to a range of economic, environmental and social problems, the sharing economy has grown rapidly in recent years. However, despite rising up the political agenda, the concept has been increasingly critiqued in relation to unintended economic and social consequences. Whilst existing research has explored the motivations of existing participants in sharing-based practices and business models, little is yet known about wider public perceptions of the sharing economy. Investigating public discourses, this paper explores how citizens may respond to attempts to mainstream the sharing economy, discussing wider desires and concerns surrounding the concept. In a series of four two-day workshops (n = 51), we utilised deliberative research methods to engage participants in discussion surrounding the sharing economy and its role within a more sustainable, resource efficient future. Overall, positive perceptions dominated discussions, with participants independently highlighting reduced waste and resource use, increased access to unaffordable goods, and increased community cohesion as key benefits of sharing. However, echoing existing critiques, a number of concerns were also raised. Our findings suggest that, in addition to personal interests (such as affordability, convenience, and hygiene), public acceptability of the sharing economy was contingent on it meeting a number of broader social values. These include desire to: foster social equality, in relation to both the opportunity and benefits promised by the sharing economy; encourage and support the development of strong and independent local communities; and ensure that business practices operate fairly in the shared interest of business, consumers and the environment. Given the implications for everyday life and consumption practices, we argue public perspectives need to be given consideration within the debate surrounding which aspects of the sharing economy should, and should not, be fostered.

Keywords: sharing economy; sustainable consumption; public perceptions’ discourses; deliberative research

Industrial energy, materials and products: UK decarbonisation challenges and opportunities

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The United Kingdom (UK) has placed itself on a transition pathway towards a low carbon economy and society, through the imposition of a legally-binding target aimed at reducing its ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 against a 1990 baseline. Reducing industrial energy demand could make a substantial contribution towards this decarbonisation goal, while simultaneously improving productivity and creating employment opportunities. Both fossil fuel and process GHG emissions will need to be significantly reduced by 2050. Ultimately, all industrial energy use and emissions result from the demand for goods and services. Energy is required at each stage in the manufacture of a product from raw material extraction through to the final distribution and eventual disposal. The required energy and associated GHG emissions along UK supply chains emanate from many different countries, due to the growth of globalisation. A range of socio-technical methods for analysing decarbonisation have therefore been explored. Efficiency gains can be made in industry, including those associated with the use of heat and with improvements in processing. Changes in the materials needed to manufacture products (via material substitution, light-weighting and ‘circular economy’ interventions) can also lead to emissions reductions. Likewise, altering the way the final consumer (industry, households or government) use products, including through product longevity and shifts from goods to services, can further reduce energy demand. The findings of an interdisciplinary study of industrial decarbonisation is therefore reported. This gave rise to the identification of the associated challenges, insights and opportunities, in part stemming from the development of a novel set of 2050 decarbonisation ‘technology roadmaps’ for energy-intensive industries in the UK. These determinations provide a valuable evidence base for industrialists, policy makers, and other stakeholders. The lessons learned are applicable across much of the wider industrialised world.

Aligning carbon targets for construction with (inter)national climate change mitigation commitments

CIEMAP researcher Jannik Giesekam has published a new article in a Special Issue of Energy and Buildings. The Special Issue is titled Embodied Energy and Carbon Efficiency: The Next Major Step Towards Zero-Impact Buildings. The paper presents a review of the carbon reduction targets set by the largest UK construction firms and discusses the challenges in aligning these with sectoral and national carbon reduction commitments. This follows on from prior CIEMAP work demonstrating the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions from construction activity.


In the face of a changing climate, a growing number of construction firms are adopting carbon reduction targets on individual projects and across their portfolios. In the wake of the Paris Agreement, some firms are seeking a means of aligning their targets with sectoral, national and international mitigation commitments. There are numerous ways by which such an alignment can be achieved, each requiring different assumptions. Using data from the UK construction industry, this paper reviews current company commitments and progress in carbon mitigation; analyses the unique challenges in aligning construction targets, and presents a series of possible sectoral decarbonisation trajectories. The results highlight the disparity between current company targets and the range of possible trajectories. It is clear that a cross-industry dialogue is urgently required to establish an appropriate response that delivers both a widely-accepted target trajectory and a plan for its delivery. This paper is intended to stimulate and support this necessary debate by illustrating the impact of different methodological assumptions and highlighting the critical features of an appropriate response.

Read the full paper at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2018.01.023


Thermodynamic insights and assessment of the ‘circular economy’

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This study analyses the effect on energy use of applying a wide range of circular economy approaches. By collating evidence on specific quantifiable approaches and then calculating and analyzing their combined full supply chain impacts through input-output analysis, it provides a more complete assessment of the overall potential scope for energy savings that these approaches might deliver than provided elsewhere. Assessment is conducted globally, across the EU-27 and in the UK.

Overall, the identified opportunities have the potential to save 6%–11% of the energy used to support economic activity, worldwide and in the EU, and 5%–8% in the UK. Their potential is equivalent to the total scope for other industrial energy efficiency savings.

The potential savings are further divided into those due to sets of approaches relating to food waste, steel production, other materials production, product refurbishment, vehicle provision, construction and other equipment manufacture. Each of these sets of approaches can make a key contribution to the total savings that are possible.

Complementary use of energy and exergy metrics illustrates the way in which energy use might change and for the first time provides indication that in most cases other energy efficiency measures are unlikely to be adversely affected by the circular economy approaches.

Potential for savings in the energy embodied in each key product input to each major sector is assessed, enabling prioritization of the areas in which the circular economy approaches have the greatest scope for impact and identification of supply chains for which they are underrepresented.

Circular Product Design. A Multiple Loops Life Cycle Design Approach for the Circular Economy

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The circular economy is a high priority subject of discussion in the current political and academic contexts; however, practical approaches in relevant disciplines like design are in need of development. This article proposes a conceptual framework for circular product design, based on four multiple loops strategies: (I) design to slow the loops, (II) design to close the loops, (III) design for bio-inspired loops, and (IV) design for bio-based loops. Recent literature, notably on life cycle design strategies, the circular economy conceptual model and the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, is reviewed and product design cases illustrating each of the proposed are analysed. The article argues that different ‘circular’ approaches centred upon the life cycle design phases can provide practical guiding strategies during the design process and thus promote sustainable design solutions for the circular economy within the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.

Briefing: Embodied carbon dioxide assessment in buildings: guidance and gaps

CIEMAP researcher Jannik Giesekam has published a new briefing paper in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Engineering Sustainability. The paper is an accessible summary of the current and upcoming guidance related to embodied carbon assessment in buildings. This follows on from previous CIEMAP work showing the urgent need to reduce embodied emissions from construction activity.


The construction industry, through its activities and supply chains as well as the operation of the assets that it creates, is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Embodied carbon dioxide emissions associated with the construction of new assets constitute a growing share of whole-life emissions across all project types and make up nearly a quarter of all annual emissions from the UK built environment. Yet these embodied emissions are still rarely assessed in practice, owing to the perceived difficulty and lack of supporting guidance for practitioners conducting an assessment. This briefing paper retraces recent advances in the field of embodied carbon dioxide assessment and highlights existing and forthcoming practical guidance that could support more widespread assessment. The paper constitutes a where-to rather than a how-to, directing assessors towards appropriate resources, of which there are many. Although the paper does highlight some remaining gaps in the field and identifies corresponding research priorities, recent additions to the body of guidance are generally sufficient to support more widespread assessment. Now, the industry must demonstrate its commitment to tackling climate change by using this guidance to drive deeper carbon dioxide reduction.

Read the full paper at: https://doi.org/10.1680/jensu.17.00032

Living in a Material World: A Win-Win for Improving Energy Efficiency?

An 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions produced within the EU by 2050 from 1990 may sound impressive, but it is not the whole story, as we discuss in a new paper published in Climate Policy.

The EU’s ‘Hidden’ Carbon Footprint

There is more than one way to calculate national carbon footprints and the way emissions are currently counted casts EU countries in a favourable light. Climate targets focus on greenhouse gases produced within the EU, not those required to support the consumption of its residents. While emissions produced within the EU’s territory – by its factories, power plants, buildings, cars and so on – are declining, emissions driven by EU consumption are rising.

Greenouse gases become embodied in products as energy is used, transforming raw materials into buildings, clothes, phones or cars. Some of these materials and products will be mined and manufactured abroad, and the EU imports more than it exports. As a result, the EU ‘consumes’ about 40% more emissions than it produces.

In our research, we looked across the whole EU supply chain (including overseas territory) to see where greenhouse gases are expended in the materials, transportation, construction, use, disposal and replacement of everything from buildings and cars to furniture and packaging. We calculated how many of these emissions are included/excluded from existing EU climate policies and whether policies could be extended to capture additional emissions as materials are transformed into products. Cutting carbon along product supply chains can also reduce production costs, so addressing the full supply chain emissions could realise cost savings too.

Climate Policies Neglect Supply Chain Opportunities

The EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is not doing enough to incentivise low carbon innovations in energy intensive industries and even if it was effective, the industries it addresses only produce 45% of the EU’s emissions. Alongside renewable energy targets, the EU’s climate package relies on energy efficiency measures to deliver its climate targets. Energy efficiency standards have made progress in reducing the energy consumed when using electronic goods, heating buildings and driving cars (i.e. in use). Yet this does not address all the energy needed to produce the EU’s homes, cars, phones, roads, food etc.

Taking a closer look at buildings and cars purchased by EU residents: the EU’s Building Performance Directive tackles the energy efficiency of buildings in use. However, an equivalent amount of the carbon used to heat buildings (i.e. in use) is used in their construction. Whilst 30% of the supply chain emissions are produced in sectors covered by the EU ETS (mainly power and material processing sectors), and are arguably addressed by existing climate policies, 30% sit outside EU climate policy altogether.


For cars, we can see that nearly three quarters of the supply chain carbon is emitted when driving (i.e. in-use) and subject to energy efficiency standards. All in all, however, 20% is left outside the scope of EU climate policy.

Extending European Energy Efficiency Standards to Include Material Use

This same analysis we have applied to cars and buildings can equally be applied to appliances, electronics, furniture, clothes, packaging etc. Their supply chains emit the equivalent of 40% of EU production emissions, with two thirds completely outside the scope of existing policies. Therefore there is significant potential for EU product policies to address climate change in this area.

Energy efficiency regulations and standards could be extended to include embodied emissions. For example, the Ecodesign Directive, the EU’s tool to improve the energy efficiency of electronics and appliances,  does have a mechanism to address some aspects of embodied emissions, including promoting easy to repair designs which would reduce emissions embodied in material use. However, this was introduced when embodied emissions data was sparse and of poor quality. Without mandatory material efficiency standards this has not been utilised.

By addressing material efficiency alongside energy efficiency our research indicates that these measures can enhance the policy package for climate mitigation. There is however work to be done on designing the right policies to exploit these opportunities and this needs to be underpinned by a mainstreaming of knowledge of embodied emissions flows into policy, as well as research. In the ideal scenario we can provide a truer picture of the EU’s carbon footprint while simultaneously uncovering ways to substantially reduce it and save costs in the process.


Read the original article here.

The UK’s Emissions and Employment Footprints: Exploring the Trade-Offs

Marco Sakai, Anne Owen and John Barrett from CIEMAP published a study on the trade-offs between the UK’s emissions and labour footprints. Their findings indicate that the UK generates an annual average of 25 million jobs worldwide via international trade, along with 525 Mt of CO2 on average per year, around half of its emissions footprint. This has important policy implications, since reducing UK imports can contribute to generate less emissions abroad, but this could also affect development overseas by limiting the amount of jobs in export sectors of UK trade partners. The findings also have implications for UK trade after Brexit.


During the last decades, the UK economy has increasingly relied on foreign markets to fulfil its material needs, becoming a net importer of both emissions and employment. While the emissions footprint reflects the pressure that consumption exerts on the planet’s climate, the labour footprint represents the employment that is created across the globe associated with the demand for products and services. This paper has a two-fold objective. First, it focuses on analysing the behaviour over time, drivers, and sectoral and regional composition of both UK’s footprints. Second, it explores the relationship between both measures by estimating the elasticity between the growth of emissions and employment embodied in imports. The results show that around half of the emissions associated with UK consumption were generated outside its borders, while only 40% of total employment was domestic. This has important policy implications. Reducing UK’s imports can contribute to cut both its footprints, generating less emissions abroad and more employment opportunities within. However, cutting imports is challenging, since this would require a lengthy and difficult process of structural transformation. The UK could contribute to curb emissions outside its borders, while safeguarding development overseas, by offering increased support to emission-intensive trade partners in the form of technology transfer and financial aid.

Read the full paper at: http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/9/7/1242

CIEMAP REPORT: Understanding Consumption

Our team has produced a new report that considers consumption and the ways in which we use products. Consumption is a key driver behind demand for materials and energy and this report explores the factors that determine consumption in order to identify opportunities to move towards a low carbon future.

Read the report here: CIEMAP REPORT 2

This report is a synthesis of some of the research conducted by the centre thus far. It highlights key areas of interest and possibilities for further research.


This report is the second produced by CIEMAP researchers. The first report considered the ways in which industrial energy and material demand reduction can contribute to a low carbon future for the UK.

Read the first report here: CIEMAP REPORT

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