Site icon The Carbon Crisis

13.1 Electronics: Life Cycle Analysis-Power vs Embodied Carbon

Author: Madison Politsky

ABSTRACT: The manufacturing of electronics emits large amounts of embodied carbon which negatively impact the environment. Implementing methods to prolong the lifespan of a device to prevent individuals from replacing it every couple of years will lower one’s carbon footprint. Another prevalent issue that will be discussed is the power consumption in our households, and the methods that can be used to easily lower how much power we consume on a daily basis.

MAIN:

Embodied carbons in electronics are the carbon dioxide emissions that are emitted due to the materials and the construction process of making that device. Embodied carbons include carbon dioxide that is created during the manufacturing of the device, the material extraction, the transportation to the manufacturer, and from constructing the device from the materials (Carbon Cure, 2020). Each device that goes through the manufacturing process to be created, generates a large carbon footprint. For example, manufacturing a smartphone account for 85%-95% of the annual carbon footprint of a phone (Srilatha, 2020). In addition, due to the emissions produced by making devices like laptops or smartphones, it would take over ten years to match the carbon emissions that are emitted during the manufacturing of these devices (Srilatha, 2020). The biggest contributor to embodied carbons in electronics comes from integrated circuits (Srilatha, 2020). Facilities where integrated circuits are manufactured, which are known as semiconductor manufacturing facilities require large amounts of electricity a year, which uses energy that is enough to power entire cities (Srilatha, 2020).

Graph: Retrieved from Environmental Science and Technology, Comparing Embodied Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Modern Computing and Electronics Products Report, N/A

This graph is depicting the embodied emissions associated with the materials and transportation of a desktop, monitor, laptop, tablets, server, and switch. As shown in this graph, circuit boards including integrated circuits (ICs) are responsible for producing the majority of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in these devices. This graph also displays how integrated circuits emit high amounts of greenhouse gases despite their size and mass. The silicon dies are shown to be responsible for 20% of product embodied emissions.

There are several solutions that can be implemented to reduce embodied carbons when using devices. Use devices for longer periods of time instead of buying new phones or laptops every couple of years (Srilatha, 2020). Instead of replacing our devices with new ones, we could repair them by replacing batteries or fixing screens on phones to extend the lifeline (Srilatha, 2020). When a device is no longer usable consider trade-in programs that certain companies offer. You can recycle your device to the manufacturer when it no longer functions. For example, Microsoft offers recycling and trade-in programs (Srilatha, 2020). These are just a few solutions that can be implemented in order to reduce the amount of embodied carbon you consume from a device.

Another large issue that is impacting our environment is the power that electronic devices emit and the power consumption that people consume. Due to technology being very prevalent in people’s lives today, it is common for a household to have numerous different devices that consume a large amount of power (Schlossberg, 2020). A study conducted by a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab in the US found that roughly 50 devices and appliances in a typical household are always consuming power, even when devices appear to be off (Schlossberg, 2020). A quarter of all residential energy consumption of devices are from idle power mode, which means that even when devices are off or in standby or sleep mode, they are still using power (Schlossberg, 2020). In another study, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, they found that in Northern California devices that are on sleep mode and standby mode can use close to 50 large power plants worth of electricity.

The overall electricity production makes up 37 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and the production of electricity largely contributes to climate change (Schlossberg, 2020). This shows that people can consume a lot of power by just leaving devices on. To further elaborate on the amount of power that one can consume, leaving a charger plugged into a wall and not unplugging it when it is no longer being used can consume large amounts of power. For example, if you leave a laptop charger plugged in, even when the laptop is fully charged you can consume 4.5 kilowatt hours of electricity in a week, which is about 235 kilowatt hours a year (the number of kilowatts used is dependent on the model of the laptop) (Schlossberg, 2020). This shows that little things like not unplugging your charger from the outlet can consume a large amount of power. Another issue to be aware of are smart devices, which are common in households today. Smart devices such as smart televisions or appliances that are connected to the internet need to stay on in order to connect the internet to perform its task. These devices draw power constantly which increases one’s carbon footprint (Schlossberg, 2020).

Solutions that can be implemented to reduce power consumption are shut down your computer, choose the right light such as LED bulbs over incandescent bulbs, eliminate vampire power, and use a power strip to reduce the number of chargers that are plugged into the wall (Harvard University Office for Sustainability).

To conclude, it is important to be aware and conscious of your power consumption and embodied carbon consumed. Developing an awareness of these issues and taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint will proactively contribute to a more sustainable planet.

RESOURCES:

Graph Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013, 47, 9, 3997-4003

U.S. energy Information administration – eia – independent statistics and analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20201116-climate-change-how-to-cut-the-carbon-emissions-from-heating

Srilatha Manne Principal Hardware Engineer, Manne, S., 30, D., Rousset, D., 7, S., Rakhunathan, S., & Cruz, L. (2020, November 23). Examining the carbon footprint of devices. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://devblogs.microsoft.com/sustainable-software/examining-the-carbon-footprint-of-devices/

Teehan, P. Kandlikar, M. Comparing Embodied Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Modern Computing and Electronics Products. http://seeds4green.net/sites/default/files/es303012r.pdf

Top 5 steps to reduce your energy consumption. (2017, September 07). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/poster/top-5-steps-reduce-your-energy-consumption

What is embodied carbon? (2020, October 08). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.carboncure.com/concrete-corner/what-is-embodied-carbon/

BIOGRAPHY

Madison Politsky is a third year Interior Design student studying at Ryerson University. Madison’s passion is understanding how an interior space can serve different functions and how spaces can positively impact the lives and wellbeing of its users. Developing her understanding of creating sustainable interiors and implementing sustainable design practices drives her designs and thought process.

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