Yesterday I talked about the potential for robotics, drones and driverless cars to increase energy consumption in ways that are not currently accounted for in calculations of energy usage. More of each of them will result in more energy consumption, as not all of them will be replacing humans or less efficient machines. They will be used to do brand new things and consuming energy to do so.
But one new technology may be instrumental in reducing energy consumption. I refer to additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.
By reducing the need for mass production runs, the idea of ‘build to order’ for replacement parts and even new products will reduce energy in manufacturing, storage and recycling or disposal.
When Steve Mosher and I self-published Climategate: The CRUTape Letters, there was no advance publishing run. If you ordered the book, Amazon printed it, packed it and mailed it to you. That was just 2D printing.
Now the same principle can apply to almost anything–parts for your car, vacuum tubes for your 1940 radio, your new gadget for monitoring your heart rate while you sleep, etc.
Nonrefrigerated warehouses in the U.S. use an average of 6.1 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 13,400 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually. There are a lot of square feet of warehouse space–just ask Amazon.
General Electric is trying to get its large customers to install 3D printers to print large airplane parts like turbines, which will save GE transportation and storage costs.
I don’t know if 3D printing will save more energy than robots will consume while flying, driving or working–but it’s something…