Sustainability | Recycle | Green

What is Embodied Energy?

gerardo cornejo velez

Sustainability is the current “hot topic” in almost every industry. Every business and brand is looking to become a more sustainable version of itself, and consumers are looking for ways to contribute to more a more sustainable world. The concept of sustainability itself can feel a bit arbitrary, so we as a society look to more concrete ways to measure. One of those measures is “Embodied Energy”.

 

What Is Embodied Energy?

Embodied energy as a general concept is the total amount energy that is required to manufacture a building material, good, or service. The simplest way to understand this concept is to think of the embodied energy is to imagine that the energy is an inherent part of the product itself.

There are two aspects of embodied energy. One portion of embodied energy is the process and transportation energy. This portion of embodied energy is pretty self explanatory, and is the measurement of the amount of energy it takes to produce the material combined with the amount of energy it takes to transport the material. The second aspect of embodied energy is the embedded energy, which is the raw material’s energy content. This is a slightly more complex concept. The embedded energy of a product is determined by the energy that is contained by the raw materials used in the creation of the product. So, in the of plastics, the embedded energy would be measure through the petroleum that was used in the plastic manufacturing process, because petroleum inherently has an energy value.  The embedded energy value of plastics is reduced as the plastic is recycled, because the longevity of the plastic is increased and makes up for the potential energy that the petroleum could have provided as raw energy.

Further Breakdown of Embodied Energy Terms:

 

  1. Initial Embodied Energy – The initial embodied energy is the energy that is non-renewable when raw materials are acquired. The initial energy can be broken down further into:
    • Direct Energy – The transportation energy
    • Indirect Energy – Energy used to gather, process, and create the materials
  2. Recurring Embodied Energy  – The energy that cannot be renewed (as it is consumed) during repair or restoration of the material.

 

How Exact is Embodied Energy Assessed?

Determining the embodied energy of a material is not yet an exact science. It is difficult to determine the exact amount of energy that is expelled in the manufacturing of a good. However, it’s still an important and accessible way to assess different goods in the context of their sustainability. As long as the same factors are being measured between products, embodied energy is a great and easily conceptualized way to compare goods and products.

While other energy related standards have been put in place (ie: Energy Star in the United States of  America), those standards measure the consumption of energy of a product. Those standards do not encompass the measurement of the energy the product itself contains. Standards will need to be implemented to measure energy efficiency outside of the widely known context of “consumption”.


For resources and more information on embodied energy, please click through to the following sources: Green Economy, Yourhome.gov , Epa.gov