Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Towards a new industrial revolution: studying societies’ metabolism

19.05.2015

To achieve a lasting transition towards sustainability, large-scale conversion of our built environment – cities, transport systems, power generation – is key. This is an outcome of a special feature investigating advances in the research on industrial ecology published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and coordinated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Studies cover topics from the urbanization effects to the material basis of modern societies, fundamental research that informs decision-makers.

“Studying the metabolism of today’s societies reveals that small-scale short-term plumbing will not suffice to substantially reduce risks that paradoxically arise from the success of industrialization,” says lead editor Helga Weisz, co-chair of PIK's research domain Transdiciplinary Concepts and Methods.

“Our greenhouse-gas emissions and the resulting climate change illustrate this. It turns out that, if sustainability is the aim, a new industrial and indeed social revolution would be needed. While the industrial revolution of the 19th century was based on fossil fuel and large material throughput, the one of the 21st century would move away from these and towards zero-carbon energy systems and closed material cycles.” The world climate summit in Paris later this year needs to provide a robust foundation for this transition, she adds.

**Infrastructure built today determines tomorrow's burdens**

The research shows that infrastructure that is being built today determines energy and material use for decades. For instance, a spread-out city design creates long distances and renders efficient public transport systems economically unattainable.

“Hence we need to change the systems of urbanization, mobility and energy,” explains Weisz. For instance a global switch to renewable electricity, one study shows, could yield twice the present-day power output at stabilized or reduced environmental impacts. However, the requirements for cement or aluminum would increase.

One of the special issue’s studies shows that the amount of energy used in cities by 2050 could be reduced by more than 25 percent. Cities in developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have by far the highest potential for energy savings. For cities in industrialized countries, higher gasoline prices combined with a compact urban form would do the job of increasing efficiency, while in developing countries urban form and transport planning are projected to be more important.

In fact, by modelling 274 cities worldwide, from Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania to Hamburg, Germany, the researchers identified eight different types of urbanisation each of which needs different mitigation policies to maximize their impact. Cities are key for tackling the climate challenge since they consume about three quarters of global energy.

**"We need to redraw the material picture of our economy"**

"The large scale transformation of the energy infrastructure to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be no walk in the park,” says Sangwon Suh of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California in Santa Barbara, co-editor of the special feature. “It would entail a fundamental change in material flows. Ramping up renewable energy production capacity, for instance, leads to much larger flux of specialty metals than today. In order to achieve a smooth transition toward a low-carbon energy future, therefore, we need to fundamentally redraw the material picture of our economy."

It is more than twenty years since PNAS published a similar roundup of insights in this area of research. At that time, the analysis was largely devoid of data and sometimes rather conceptual in nature, whereas the studies now published assess societies’ metabolism in a quantitative way. Also, this strand of research has moved from case-studies to analyses of global material systems and their interaction with society and the environment. Thus the PNAS special feature for the first time outlines industrial ecology as frontier science.

“Understanding and quantifying the physical basis of modern society is a key component of sustainability” says Thomas E. Graedel of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the third co-editor of the special feature. “Addressing this challenge is a central focus of industrial ecology.”

Article: Weisz, H., Suh, S., Graedel, T.E. (2015): Industrial Ecology: The role of manufactured capital in sustainability. Special Feature: Introduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1506532112]

Weblink to the article: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1506532112

Article: Creutzig, F., Baiocchi, G., Bierkandt, R., Pichler, P.-P., Seto, K. (2015): A Global Typology of Urban Energy Use and Potentials for an Urbanization Mitigation Wedge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1315545112]

Weblink to the article: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/01/07/1315545112.abstract

Media contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
E-Mail: press@pik-potsdam.de
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

Jonas Viering | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Stagnation in the South Pacific Explains Natural CO2 Fluctuations
23.02.2018 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

nachricht First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals
22.02.2018 | University of Arizona

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>