Green technology to inspire new industrial revolution

Posted on 4 Apr 2012

Professor Steve Evans of Cambridge University claimed that green technology will spark a “new industrial revolution” by reducing manufacturing costs.

His comments came at an event held by UKTI as academics, politicians and businessmen urged UK industry to invest in green technology.

Professor Steve Evans, director of research in industrial sustainability at Cambridge University, said: “This is the new industrial revolution. We must find new solutions at factory level, the places that make the products rather than the products themselves.”

“In 50 years time we could be growing furniture and making meat in a factory through synthetic biology,” added Professor Evans.

Speakers from environmental groups, industry and academia pointed out that green technology could cut costs for UK manufacturers and also improve reputations. “Reputation is a primary driver. If consumers can choose between two products at the same quality and price then the purchase decision will be made based on reputation,” said the Cambridge professor.

The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Industrial Sustainability is working with over 200 manufacturers and has produced 88 PHD students, but Evans feels that more needs to be done. “It may seem like a lot of researchers but there are a lot of problems,” he commented.

It was argued that lean ideas will be turned on their head in the future as not only production will be analysed, but the cost of throughout the whole supply chain and logistics.

As resources become more scarce and the price of oil increases it will make less sense to operate via the current model where products are made according to where factory costs are lowest. This means that raw materials come in from all over the world and finished goods are then sold across the globe.

“The logic now is that more things get made in fewer factories, but this doesn’t seem very sensible. We will see changes in the next 30-40 years,” said Evans.

Figures from the Carbon Trust show that 80% of investment in green technology is paid back within three years, with up to 60% of these savings coming from processes.

Al-Karim Govindji, technology acceleration manager at the Carbon Trust, said that there are a number of barriers to implementation despite the cost reducing benefits.  “Low and medium energy users have a low incentive to focus on energy as it is a lower percentage of their costs and are looking more at raw materials and labour cost reductions,” he said.

“There is a lack of funding available and there are competing projects, such as plant expansion, that can move reducing energy usage further down the agenda. Changing processes can alter productivity so some manufacturers are apprehensive, particularly in the food and drink industry.”

The Carbon Trust reported that up to 19% reductions of carbon emission can be made from innovation, but it is a longer payback period to regain investment and is often more expensive.

Dr Stuart Ballinger, water consultant at energy research firm AEA, commented that there is a “distinct lack of knowledge about the cost savings.”

The Green Deal, which is focused at SMEs, is a new government scheme providing loans linked to the savings made by investing in energy reduction.

This is a measurable and guaranteed payback where the cost savings can then be used on R&D and investment that is hard to get from banks because of the high level of risk and therefore the inability to quantify returns.