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Computer factories eat way more energy than running the devices they build

Study finds 70% of the energy a typical laptop will consume during its life span is used in manufacturing the computer

By Layer 8 on Thu, 04/14/11 - 4:03pm.

phyorgThe main idea behind saving energy in the high-tech world has been to buy newer, more energy efficient devices, but researchers say maybe that's the wrong way to look at the issue, since as much as 70% of the energy a typical laptop will consume during its life span is used in manufacturing the computer.

More energy would be conserved by reducing power used in the manufacturing of computers, rather than reducing only the amount of energy required to operate them say researchers from the Arizona State University and Rochester Institute of Technology. Designing computers that can be upgraded and more easily reused would help reduce the need for more and more new computers to be manufactured. Reuse has the potential to reduce carbon emissions more than recycling, they stated.

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To get their results, which are published in the recent Journal of Cleaner Production the researchers looked at power consumption and emissions resulting from the manufacture of 2002 model year laptop (in this case a Dell Inspiron 2500) computers. The researchers compared the amount of power used to operate a laptop computer over its typical lifetime to the energy consumption involved in the manufacturing process - and the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by the process.

According to ASU engineer Eric Williams 227 to 270 kilograms (or 500 to 594 pounds) of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. The range in the numbers is due to variability in materials used and different manufacturing processes. The amount is surprisingly large, Williams said in a statement. It shows that the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from energy consumed in the manufacture of a laptop computer can in some cases come close to or equal the emissions resulting from the manufacture of a refrigerator - meaning computer manufacturing is relatively more energy intensive, he said

From the research paper: "Results show that manufacturing the computer requires 3010-4340 MJ of primary energy, 52-67% less than the energy to make a desktop computer. The manufacturing phase represents 62-70% of total primary energy of manufacturing and operation. This indicates, as for desktop computers, that mitigating manufacturing energy use, for example through extending lifespan, can be an important strategy to manage the life cycle energy of laptop computers."

 "The carbon emissions for materials in the laptop computer account for only 10 percent of the total, which means recycling materials can get back only a small fraction of the energy investment," added Callie Babbitt of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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