A wide ranging and thought provoking paper on materials efficiency has been published by the Royal Society in its philosophical transactions.

The paper, by lead author Julian Allwood of Cambridge University, is available for download here.

Under the backdrop of predicting a doubling of material extraction by 2040 (due to population growth and increasing wealth) the paper calls on engineers to look at ways of doing more with less – in particular by implementing material efficiency – whether it be through lean design, reducing yield losses or design for longer life or re-use.

With the emission intensities of steel, cement, paper and plastics already honed from 100 years of manufacturing endeavours there may only be 25%-40% of remaining improvements available – another reason why Allwood argues for material efficiency to come to the fore if we are to meet the target of producing twice as much with half the ingredients.

Allwood admits that the challenge will be tough with some radical societal and taxation changes required to aid engineers in their quest. Taxing materials rather than labour is probably the most radical but it may be the only way if we are to stop ‘..the long history of bulk energy intensive materials being traded as low-priced commodities..’.

Here at Smith and Wallwork we will be doing our bit to help the material efficiency cause – but we will also be challenging Julian on his text stating that construction material substitution (ie steel and/or concrete for wood) has no significant opportunity…what about the 200 million cubic metres of unharvested annual forest growth in the EU?