Embodied Energy

Embodied energy refers to the total amount of energy used in production of a material or item. This includes extraction of raw materials, manufacture, transport, construction, maintenance and disposal. So, the full lifecycle of the product is taken into account.

Until fairly recently, it was thought that the energy used in the operation of a building over its lifetime far outweighed the energy that went into its construction. This led to a focus solely upon the choice of materials and construction techniques, to maximise the energy efficiency of a building during its operation. However, it can be the case that the total embodied energy of a building is equivalent to the amount of energy used during its operation over a considerable number of years.

Therefore, to truly reduce the environmental impact and energy use of construction projects and other activities, the embodied energy of the materials and products used needs to be taken into account. With this in mind, low embodied energy materials were used in construction of the Human Impact Building and will also be favoured when building the Green Greenhouse complex. For example, the main structure of the Human Impact Building was constructed from timber rather than steel, as steel can have around 200 times more embodied energy.

Some more examples of common embodied energy comparisons (calculated by weight) are given below.

Insulation

  • Mineral wool has over 4 times the embodied energy of cellulose
  • Fibreglass has 8 times the embodied energy of mineral wool
  • Polystyrene has almost 4 times the embodied energy of fibreglass

Therefore, cellulose is the best choice for insulation, when embodied energy is taken into consideration. It is for this reason that The Living Rainforest has chosen insulation products produced from recycled newspaper.

Construction

  • Aluminium has 7 times the embodied energy of steel
  • Steel has 3.5 times the embodied energy of recycled steel
  • Recycled steel has only 10% more embodied energy than recycled aluminium.

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