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Sustainable Materials - With Both Eyes Open

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This evidence-based survey presents a holistic vision of options for a sustainable future by going beyond efficient and clean production to the inclusion of material efficiency and the reduction of demand. Beginning with an all-encompassing examination of the uses of the five most important materials—steel, aluminum, cement, plastic, and paper—this exploration delves into the entire lifecycle of these materials, from smelting and goods manufacture to final recycling. Through evidence drawn from this analysis and real-world commercial enterprises, the study submits creative solutions for achieving manufacturing efficiencies and the same functionality or services using less material, and identifies potential economic outcomes from these scenarios.

384 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2012

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Julian M. Allwood

2 books8 followers

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5 stars
35 (41%)
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28 (33%)
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18 (21%)
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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
33 reviews3 followers
January 30, 2015
This book is an eye-opening read intended to educate the general public about material processing and its effects on the ecosystem that everyone should care about as it's an inevitable, ubiquitous part of our daily life (unless you live in the jungle. No, even if you live in the jungle, this book is still relevant for you). The presentation is clear, not laden with numbers, and funny at times with dry English humor sprinkled all over the pages. The authors especially love to poke fun at Belgium (which reminds me how J.E Gordon always takes the chance to subtly diss the French in his book Structure or Why Things Don't Fall Down).

Presentation and humor aside, the contents are especially important for engineers of all disciplines and scientists. Vaclav Smil (Bill Gates' favourite author) included this book in his recent reading list in preparation for his new book (which I'm guessing is about the future of the earth and how material processing is significantly related to it).

Here's my attempt to summarize the book:

This book concludes that steel, aluminium, cement, paper, and plastic are the five major materials. This book mainly discusses about the first two materials as the most energy-intensive materials to process. The authors painstakingly go through the life cycle of these materials from mining to post-consumption.

The phrase "with both eyes open" refers to the author's approach in explaining the possible solutions for the problems that the residents of earth are facing (but mostly not realizing) now. The authors encourage:
1) pre-production forethought that take into account efficiency and product life cycle instead of only post-consumption actions (recycling, carbon capture and sequestration)
2) tripartite collaboration between the businesses, government and citizens, with sensible policy suggestions

All in all, I love the rational, non-ideological, intellectual way the authors explain things that matter to us in an academic yet layman-friendly manner. I have doubts about the numbers presented though. How reliable are these numbers and charts? I also have doubts about the feasibility of all the optimistic solutions suggested. How do you make sure these efforts are adopted by the critical number of parties and how do you sustain them, considering the rather unreliable and easily distracted nature of our species?

With my positive sentiments for this book as well as my doubts, I would like to see the content of this book being discussed and debated in public with numbers and good reasoning. I would like to see the content of this book being taught as a compulsory subject for undergraduate engineering students.
Profile Image for Jonathan Jeckell.
102 reviews17 followers
May 7, 2017
A very approachable and engaging tour of how things are made and how they could be made more efficiently. It focuses mostly on steel and aluminum because of their sheer volume and energy requirements dominate all other materials and may have the most potential for efficiency gains. It follows the production chain from smelting ores all the way to reuse or recycling and examines ways we could save material and/or energy at every step along the way, and then touches on other materials (cement, paper, plastic) more briefly.

Things went off the rails a bit when the book provided policy advice, given the limitations of technical solutions to make significant improvements over what industry has already achieved (despite the shocking revelation that 25% of all steel and 50% of aluminum is stuck in an eddy current of continually getting remelted and reprocessed without getting made into anything). Some of the policy advice was really naive and didn't take into account a range of human factors. For example, cars are not merely tools, but status symbols. Good luck getting people to hold on to them longer or forsake car ownership in significant numbers. However, increased re-use of building materials sounded promising.

I was also saddened to see the authors push the line of a more austere lifestyle because this has given the word "sustainability" the taint of deprivation and turns people away. It never ceases to disappoint me when relatively wealthy, safe, healthy, and well-fed Westerners glorify poverty, seem to glorify it, or advocate more austerity (for others).

The political recommendations also fell far short because of global supply chains, and even with Brexit (this book was written in the UK, and policy advice was for UK politicians), most of the advice can only apply to their own industry, leading to easy substitution from abroad. Unless all other countries voluntarily agree to the same changes (where they cost), these prescriptions are doomed to failure, even with tariffs (which the WTO will strike down).

The main lesson for me from this book, aside from the wonderful technical tour of materials, is that technical solutions are not going to save us from this portion of climate change, and the political solutions offered probably won't either.

You can get the book for free on pdf here: http://www.withbotheyesopen.com Reading it on my computer (and not printing it out) was kind of tough. I wish they had an ePub version for Kindle or Apple Books (pdfs do not repaginate or scale to make them easier to read on ereaders).
35 reviews6 followers
September 28, 2018
At times great: graphs, figures, and tables with clear data. And usually clear reasoning. Occasionally quirky texts that distract. The online edition is great. Some bits require a little update due to the fact that this book is already a few years old. But for the most part it doesn’t need updating. The reference to David MacKays book https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... is not accurate and the main point. On the whole quite complete, but there is room for improvements.
Profile Image for Onur.
10 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2020
Focusing on steel making and aluminum smelting, Allwood and Cullen present us relying merely on the technical competence of subject-matter experts to cut CO2 emissions significantly is not possible, and even with considering interdisciplinary initiatives, it is a very challenging endeavor. Authors try their best to find the limits of what engineering can offer and and convince us that it is actually a societal challenge, something that may not be fixed without decisive policy decisions, besides the technical problems (and there are many).
Profile Image for Popup-ch.
738 reviews12 followers
May 27, 2016
It's billed as a companion book to David MacKaye's brilliant Sustainable Energy Without Hot Air. - But it doesn't quite live up to those high expectations.

It's an attempt to analyse the energy (or rather CO2 emissions) embedded in the five most common materials - Steel, Aluminium, Concrete, Plastic and Paper - and how they're used today. The authors go on to show that the current production methods are pretty efficient, and that reducing material use (in most cases) will cost more, as it will mean e.g. more specialised steel profiles or different alloys in different parts - which will make recycling difficult. While it would be possible to reduce steel use in construction, e.g. by specifying more different kinds of rebar for different parts, today it's not worth the effort.

One thing that I believe that the authors dismiss a bit too fast, is the options provided by 3D printers and other advanced methods of forming complicated shapes out of metals and plastics. If you can replace a solid sheet of metal with a corrugated sandwich structure, you can save a lot of weight and metal! There are also all kinds of metal foams and other novel ways of using less material in clever ways. It's true that today it requires quite a lot of energy to exploit these structures, but these are early days! They mention a way to compress and extrude aluminium swarf without melting it, and if something similar could be used for 3D printing it could really change things.

Unfortunately four-fifths of the book are about Steel and Aluminium, with Paper, Concrete and Plastics relegated to a much shorter section, which is a pity. There is for example nothing about 'foamed paper' or the energy savings in replacing heavy glass bottles by plastic or paper.

I read it on my kindle, which was a mistake, as there are lovely colour diagrams in both the printed book and the (free) PDF, that come out as small grey-on-grey postage-stamps on the kindle.

While the book itself deserves at least four stars, I can only give it three, due to the abysmal rendering on the kindle.
February 5, 2016
Full of information, detailed but not too much, easy to understand, and convincing. The author kindly made it available for free download. I did not give 5 stars because sometimes the description is boring, although he has put many jokes in each story.

This book mainly deals with steel and aluminium which accounted for 25% and 3% of industrial CO2 emission (See nice figure 2.1). It is not about cements, plastics, or novel exotic material options.

Spoiler (key message): With increasing demand of services, we can not reduce CO2 emission by only improve the efficiency of production (called "with one eye open"). But we can still do it without or with smaller increasing demand by improve the efficiency of using materials (called "by both eyes open"). The ways to do are written in the title of chapters in the part III and summarized in the part V.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
February 29, 2016
Read this book to know more about materials you never think twice before using have an impact on the planet. Industries cant get more efficient (one eye), could we then reduce the material use or the demand or create alternatives? (Both eyes) is an interesting approach to the problem that makes reading more interesting.
And not to forget this book was on Bill Gates top books to read, 2015.
Profile Image for Anthony Leutenegger.
22 reviews1 follower
October 31, 2014
More of a text book, but with fantastic substance on materials and their life cycles. A good compliment and less idealistic read to Cradle-to-Cradle.
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