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[greenyes] Computer Life Cycle Costs



Technology News - October 20, 2004

Calculating computing's environmental cost
The life-cycle costs of personal computers (PCs) are surprisingly high,
according to the most detailed analysis yet conducted, which was published
on ES&T's Research ASAP website this week (es035152j). The determination
that the "materials intensity" of computer manufacturing is 10 times higher
than that of automobiles or refrigerators is particularly alarming because
computers have such short useful lifetimes, according to the study's author,
Eric Williams of the United Nations University (UNU).

Williams found that manufacturing, using, and disposing of one desktop
computer with a Pentium III processor and a 17-inch cathode ray tube (CRT)
monitor uses at least 260 kilograms of fossil fuels and 6400 megajoules of
energy.

Although Williams is not the first researcher to use life-cycle analysis to
evaluate the materials and energy involved in producing computers, he
contends that his study overcomes four weaknesses in previous studies: Not
all of the data in the new study are confidential, so critical evaluation of
underlying assumptions is possible; manufacturing process steps previously
left out are included; and variations among companies and nations are
considered.

Williams acknowledges that computers are tools that can confer many
environmental benefits, such as allowing the environment to be simulated in
complex models that can expand human understanding, but he also stresses
that they "pack a punch, energy-wise." They demand far more energy than any
other home appliance, except a furnace or boiler, he says.

Computing equipment differs significantly from many other consumer products
because the vast majority of the energy it uses over its lifetime-81%,
according to Williams' calculations-is required during the manufacturing
process.

Most of the energy is used to run the plants where the computer chips are
fabricated. "The overall demand of a typical chip plant is equivalent to the
energy used by a U.S. city with 60,000-80,000 people," says Ted Smith,
executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a nonprofit
group.



"...

_________________________
Peter Anderson, President
RECYCLEWORLDS CONSULTING
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eMail: anderson@no.address
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