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The role of energy demand reduction in achieving net-zero in the UK: Materials and products

18 October, 2021

The role of energy demand reduction in achieving net-zero in the UK: Materials and products

Jonathan Norman

Jannik Giesekam

Report   Materials & Products

Jonathan Norman, Kate Scott and Jannik Giesekam


Resource efficiency and energy efficiency were both considered for reducing energy demand for the production of materials and products. Resource efficiency strategies reduce the required output of materials and products. Energy efficiency strategies reduce the energy demand to produce each unit of output. Additionally changes in construction demand are an important driver of material production and associated energy demand.

Energy efficiency options covered both the improvement and replacement of energy using processes within the UK industrial sector (and may also include fuel switching, which is encompassed in energy efficiency here and is not discussed separately). Resource efficiency strategies include measures within industrial production processes (for example improved product yields), and also measures that would supply the same consumer service, whilst reducing the requirement for materials and products (for example longer life clothing). These resource efficiency strategies are applied to a reference scenario of industrial production and final demand. The whole supply chain impacts of resource efficiency are determined using multi-regional input-output (MRIO) analysis. Due to the importance of the construction sector it was assessed in detail using a more detailed approach.

The construction sector is the largest user of materials in the UK and the largest producer of waste by tonnage (GCB, 2020). The sector is the principal consumer of a large proportion of industrial output, particularly of key materials, such as cement and steel.

There is potential to reduce demand for production of these materials (and the corresponding energy demand) by changing national demand for new buildings and infrastructure; and how these assets are designed and delivered.

The demand for new domestic and non-domestic buildings is determined by numerous socio-economic factors; and also by approaches to refurbishment and adaptive re-use of the existing building stock. Demand for new infrastructure assets is similarly shaped by grand societal choices, e.g. acceptable modes of transportation; preferred power sources etc. Differing choices, e.g. rail versus road, will yield substantially different requirements for infrastructure and corresponding industrial material manufacture. The material and energy intensity of an asset can be reduced through various changes in processes, materials, and construction techniques (see (Giesekam et al., 2014) for an overview). Demand for new material manufacture can also be reduced through the increased re-use of existing materials, components and structures.

Recognising the significance of this sector, and the substantive opportunities for mitigation by middle actors, in this analysis we attempt to derive future estimates of demand for key construction materials based upon scenarios of future demand for buildings and infrastructure and uptake of a range of mitigation measures that may reduce the quantity of new materials required to service this demand.

Publication details

Norman, J., Scott, S. and Giesekam, J. 2021. The role of energy demand reduction in achieving net-zero in the UK: Materials and productsOpens in a new tab. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK.  

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