Embodied energy

Embodied energy in building products is under greater scrutiny, delivering environmental benefits and production efficiencies. Joe Hague, managing director of Promac Group, explains.

The construction industry is the largest consumer of resources in the UK, swallowing up more than 400 million tonnes of material a year (Davis Langdon) and accounting for 10% of UK carbon emissions (Envest).

While the industry has focused on the energy efficiency of its products through-life, embodied energy has until now received less attention. But the tide is turning.

There is, increasingly, a cradle-to-grave approach to building product specification. This is driving increased focus on the up-front energy costs of manufacture and embodied energy.

This has been driven by a number of stark realisations for the construction industry. Think energy efficiency and you think Passivhaus and the low-energy Scandinavian style of building.

While these are proven to offer exceptional through-life thermal efficiency, recent studies have suggested that initial embodied energy in the manufacture of component building products is as much as 40% of the energy these buildings consume through their 50-year life cycle.

This has potential commercial ramifications for the UK window and door industry, as builders come under more pressure to deliver against emissions targets.

The Parliamentary Committee for Climate Change warned over the summer that UK housebuilders had “markedly failed” to decarbonise buildings, and it called for more stringent controls if the UK is to meet its legally binding global emissions targets.

There’s a political and public pressure reduce emissions and embodied energy, as well as a commercial argument. If the embodied energy of your product is high, your manufacturing costs are high. There are a number of manufacturers who have ‘sweated’ machinery since the downturn and that failure to invest is now coming back to bite them through higher energy consumption.

Promac Group is UK agent for machinery manufacturers including FOM, Graf, Urban, Pertici, Forel and Mappi, among others.

The kit that we were supplying five years ago was cutting edge, offered increased volume, improved accuracy, quality and efficiency. Today, that kit isn’t as efficient as the new platforms that leading suppliers are bringing to market.

When it comes to IGU manufacture, we’re manufacturing products that deliver massive through-life energy savings but the energy that goes into their production can be exceptionally high, particularly if you’re running older platforms.

Toughening plant is the obvious example, especially when you compare older and new generation platforms.

This includes the ATS Eco 4.0 Furnace, which has been developed by Mappi to offer reduced cycle times and increased productivity and efficiency, through a series of exclusive innovations.

Hitting tempering temperatures within an hour, this includes Mappi’s Multizone Heating System, which exploits a network of electronically controlled sensors to apply constant and highly focussed heat only where glass is detected. Energy consumption is reduced through its Energy Saving System, which uses a computerised ventilation system to optimise fuel consumption.

This is further enhanced using a technically advanced 350mm insulation. The ATS Eco 4.0 also uses a patented roller mechanism, which synchronises the movement of ceramic rollers providing perfect glass flow without requiring sulphur dioxide in the heating process. A smart cooling system also introduces more precision to the cooling process, reducing iridescence.

Each production cycle is automatically recorded and stored providing an automatic report simplifying the CE Marking compliance process.

The fact that the Mappi ATS Eco focuses heat only to those areas where the glass is, and then recaptures and recycles that energy, massively reduces energy consumption compared to conventional and older platforms.

This reduces carbon emissions and the embodied energy of product, and it cuts manufacturing costs.

With rising energy prices and increased pressure to reduce the embodied carbon of building products, it’s one of a number of platforms that offer our customers significant operational efficiencies.