New Manufacturing Processes Must Be More Efficient

Posted on 2 Apr 2009 by The Manufacturer

An American study has questioned the value of solar panels as the manufacturing process behind them is so "spectacularly inefficient" that it could outweigh the environmental benefit of the product.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) carried out research into the energy needed in new manufacturing processes and compared them to traditional methods like casting and machining. “In short,” they say, “making microchips uses up…more energy than making manhole covers.”

The manufacture of solar panels is “escalating dramatically”, said MIT, and the processes behind them are much the same as those used for microchips. This significantly decreases the balance between the amount of energy the device needs to be made and the amount of energy it will produce in its lifetime.

Professor Timothy Gutowski from MIT’s department of mechanical engineering who led the research has urged more research into a solution to the problem and suggested replacing things like vapour-phasing with liquid processing techniques that are more efficient.

“The seemingly extravagant use of materials and energy resources by many newer manufacturing processes is alarming and needs to be addressed alongside claims of improved sustainability from products manufactured by these means,” he said.

To read more about the research click here.